Adversity in the Workplace: Narratives from the Black and Brown Panel

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People carry many prejudices, and with that, many ways to justify discrimination. The most visible are race, religion, gender, age and whether or not someone is able- bodied. In terms of race, nearly half of the population of the United States is made up of minorities, and that number is steadily increasing. Those minorities often suffer from racism and prejudices in their day-to-day lives.

The Seattle University African American Alumni Chapter strove to address those prejudices in a talk on Feb. 20 entitled “Black and Brown Panel: What it Means to be a Person of Color in the Workplace.”

Duron Jones, president of the African American Chapter at Seattle U, moderated the event.

Jones was joined by five guests who occupy various fields and seniority. Each of the five panelists had various injustices and things they’ve faced before they came to be at their current positions. With very unique circumstances and different passions, all five had hurdles when they entered the professional world, and all five had different ways they overcame them.

A’Brianna McKinnon is a Washington State University alumna and is the sales and catering coordinator at Silver Cloud Hotel. When she entered that position, she was surrounded by men who were much older than her and underestimated her abilities.

“Being a millennial, millennial meaning young, too dependent on technology, lazy and being a woman lesser than men in expert and of color, experiencing all of those things, I showed them the opposite of that,” McKinnon said. “I showed them my willingness to work, how fast I learn and those type of things. What came with that was my professionalism.”

Alicia Crank, Corporate Relations Officer at YWCA Seattle, was another panelist that spoke. After overcoming her high school guidance counselor’s underestimations on where she could get admitted into college, she also had to overcome the prejudices and assumptions people had of her when she entered into different phases of her professional life.

“Being a woman of color in multimillion dollar corporate banking, I didn’t look the part. And when I went to education at Stanford University, I didn’t look the part,” Crank said. “Now I’m doing corporate fundraising at YWCA and I still don’t look the part, but I found that not looking a part grabs a lot of attention, and I could use that as a negative to hide or use it as a platform to push things forward.”

Kat Gaceta, the northwest regional office manager and metrics coordinator for United Technologies Corporation Aerospace Systems, entered the workforce during the time of the recession. As a result, she’s had roles in multiple industries including the technology industry, but before that she was a dancer at a strip club.

Now working in the corporate world, Graceta talked about the similarities between the two very different yet very similar industries.

“The people who run those clubs, are the same people who run those corporations. And sometimes what they say is way worse in the corporate world,” Graceta said. “Looks make a difference, and especially being the first person people see and considering these are older men, they kind of want to see a younger, more attractive girl.”

Toward the end of the event, panelists were asked to give advice to their younger, fresh-out-of-college selves.

Panelist Charles Irons, who graduated from Seattle U in 2013 and now works as the controller for North Pacific Door Corporation, weighed in. Irons was the only male panelist.

“Understand that life is a process,” Irons said. “One thing that my mentor told me is don’t underestimate the short-term and don’t underestimate what you can accomplish in the long- term. There are very few overnight successes, so continue to build your brand and your network.”

After the moderator finished asking the panelists questions, it was the audience members’ turn. A question that garnered an impassioned response regarded the newly-released Marvel movie, “Black Panther.”

“The ‘Black Panther’ movie has been highly acclaimed for portraying black folks people in a positive light. Do you think things that are portrayed in that movie could help you in the workplace?” an audience member asked the panel.

Crank said she has already seen the movie three times, each time focusing on a specific character.

“The movie was political, without being too politically correct,” Crank said. “Being able to see positive female role models in greater roles, sometimes being the support and sometimes being the main warrior, doesn’t mean that you’re any less. You’re all a part of the organization despite the emphasis on the role you play.”

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