“The Community Manager is a facilitator of all operations, as well as a key developer of company culture. As an experienced Office Manager, they will ensure that the office is kept in order and running smoothly … this person is expected to have acute attention to detail and an ability to anticipate and address any potential issue arising with the office.”
From the moment I saw this ad post, I knew this was where I was supposed to be. Professionally, I have held positions as a case administrator, an accounting assistant, and a personal assistant to small business presidents. And I graduated from the “School of Life” long before I got any type of degree. Resourcefulness, a natural understanding of what people need, and the ability to see problems before they begin have served me well — and here was a job that combined all of those things. The Community Manager position would go well beyond the tasks of past jobs, such as maintaining ledgers or invoicing clients, and allow me to have a direct hand in shaping a company’s culture and how it operates beyond profits and losses.
No More Hiding
Although I knew this was the right next step for me, I was worried. When I looked at the company’s “About” page, there were no people that looked like me. I would be the only black professional at this company, let alone a black woman with tattoos, stiletto nails, and braids, curls, or twists, depending on what day it was. Still, I submitted my résumé, and I got my callback for a phone interview where I developed good rapport with the individual who would become my direct supervisor. The call lasted about 30 minutes and included many typical interview questions. When he asked me about my greatest defining trait, I admitted stubbornness. I had a lot to prove, and over the years, I had done well, despite only getting my associate’s degree 3 months before that interview. At 19, I went to work full time as a cashier. Almost a decade later, I became a retirement specialist in divorce, and I had a reputation for dealing effectively with family law attorneys around the country. But it was a behind-the-scenes position; I only met four of my clients face to face in 3 years. My new position would involve working with, on average, 20 coworkers and countless clients on a daily basis. There would be no more hiding.
I went through a series of four interviews — the last being the most important and the one that changed my life. In previous interviews, I had dialed down my appearance sometimes with straight hair, shortened nails, opaque tights, rings that covered tattoos. But for this one-on-one, I showed up as myself: waist-length Senegalese twists, stiletto nails, and tattoos on full display. I remember saying something along the lines of, “This is who I am. Will this be a problem? Don’t worry, my WPM is still insane with these nails.”
But my future supervisor assured me there were no restrictions in appearance outside of the basic business guidelines of “no crop tops,” and then we connected over a discussion about Game of Thrones.
New World, New Ways
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to show up as yourself, especially as a black professional. I learned at my mother’s knee that you can’t be yourself and expect to get ahead. Businesses will judge you, more so if you don’t have a degree, so all the things from changing your voice to straightening your hair could help get you in those spaces. Play the game, and you may lose part of yourself for 8–9 hours a day, but you could climb those ladders.
To this, I say, “Old ways don’t always serve in new worlds.” There are too many brilliant people who are not where they should be because they are told that people won’t accept them as they are. That they need to conform to rigid roles of respectability: from degrees that are unaffordable and still won’t teach them the actual work of their field to hiding their style and individuality, and more.
In my opinion, it is the responsibility of every company to foster a culture where people are allowed to be themselves wholly. I’m not talking about just the company culture of tech giants like Google, Amazon, or anywhere a ping pong table is present on company grounds. We, as facilitators of company culture, are bound by the ever-evolving human component of business to say to prospective employees, clients, and ourselves that we stand apart from the old rules.
As Community Manager, it’s my obligation to look at my fellow employees and support their greatness. How much would their work suffer if they spent their time trying to be anything but who they are? How would I progress in this role if I didn’t have a supervisor who said, “You can come to me, and we’ll find a solution together”?
Eastern Standard calls upon everyone, from the partners to the newest of hires, to utilize their collective knowledge and experiences to meet the challenges of these new days and, of course, new projects. Every experience is valid and listened to without fear or derision. It is not a passive process, but rather proactive “cultural landscaping.” We engage people with one-on-ones, where we say, “Talk to me, person to person” and have a policy of radical candor™. We strike down the field language of calling people “resources” because as soon as you stop seeing your employees as people, you’ve already lost.
Times are changing, and we must meet them without ego, but with cheerful resolve for the possibilities they represent. This is the standard we must hold ourselves to.