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Elaine’s Story – EyesOpen
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Elaine’s Story

I simply replied: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I can see from the expressions on your faces, I am not what you had expected. Given that I have communicated with you all verbally as well as via email and have also received praise from you for my work on this project, could you possibly imagine my position in seeing you all shocked to know it was me you were working with after seeing me in person?’

Biography- Elaine Cousins

My name Elaine Cousins, and I live in the UK working within a senior level in Human Resources. 

I like to consider myself as a determined, focused, confident black woman who is also empathic and sensitive.

Above all I strongly believe that one of the most powerful forms of love, is the love one holds for themselves.

It has taken me many years to view, love and acknowledge myself as the woman I have described myself as. Overcoming many adversities within my personal and professional life for many years had put me in a place where I began to view myself as weak, undeserving, unlovable, unworthy, and upon further reflection a victim.

Though it is not to say that my journey was not without its trials and tribulations, especially when it came to my life within the workplace environment.

At work, I found that I was often angry. Angry that no one saw my worth, the good in my work or the value in the knowledge I had to share. I felt alone in the  struggle  in making myself be seen for what I had to contribute, until one day someone took me aside and said to me: ‘Elaine you are a good worker, but your attitude needs to change’. Inside I was raging, how dare she tell me “my attitude needs to change?!, who did she think she was? Taking what she said, along with my anger and incredulity, I just went home and cried. Thinking to myself: was there any truth to what was said to me? Did I have an attitude that needed changing?

Now, I have always been a strong-willed woman and at the time of this conversation at work, I did not know how to use my colleagues’ feedback to my advantage within that professional setting to further my career. BUT upon reflection, practice, and action, I eventually learned how to. I was ready for a change, but not all my (white) colleagues liked this newfound drive for professional growth that I developed. A Black woman who is intelligent and holds valuable knowledge in her field, who carries herself with grace, pose and patience, and who is confident, able to listen to others but also able to stand her ground. To them (my colleagues), I was (and still am) a threat.

Here is one prime example from many countless others;

My position is Head of Recruitment. I had been exchanging many emails and had conversations with a number of colleagues who were the Heads of Procurement, Finance and Workforce Planning as I had a huge project to complete due to it having a UK government incentive. Each department head (mentioned above),  had sent me emails stating that they were more than happy to help  ‘I am on board’, ‘Oh you are so helpful’ ‘you really know your stuff’ ‘thank you for your help’ ‘cannot wait to meet you in person’. In my correspondence I set clear deadlines and sent the department heads reminders of what I was asking of them in order to complete my project. I scheduled a meeting with the expectation that all the data I required would be provided by each head of department at that time.

Dressed in my fine red trousers suit and perfectly applied makeup, hair done just right, slicked back…. (First impressions count right!)

On the day of the meeting, I turned up early, I was the first one there, I sat down golfer ready. One by one the department heads (who I had been corresponding with to complete my project) walked in, and not one of them acknowledged me. Nonetheless, I smiled, stood up and walked over to the door and closed it.

Me: ‘Hi everyone, shall we start?’

Department Heads: ‘No, we are waiting for Elaine’

Me: ‘I am she’ 

I said with a smile. At that, all their mouths dropped wide open. Then the Head of Finance said to me:’ Are you sure you know what you’re doing?’

I simply replied: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I can see from the expressions on your faces, I am not what you had expected. Given that I have communicated with you all verbally as well as via email and have also received praise from you for my work on this project, could you possibly imagine my position in seeing you all shocked to know it was me you were working with after seeing me in person?’

I did not pause long enough to give them a chance to answer but went on to say:

 ‘do you have the data I have asked for?’.

One by one each department head closed their books and said no, they didn’t. My response to that was:

‘OK, however my time is precious and will therefore give you until Monday morning to get me the data and materials I have asked each of you for, failing in doing so will put me in a position to indicate to the Director of Human Resources you have failed your objectives in working collaboratively with me despite me giving you support and guidance in what i needed from you as well as clear time frames.’

and with that I got up and walked out of the room.

 

I had always heard that the higher you climb up the ladder as a black woman the more people will test you and even try and push buttons in you whereby you act in the way they expect of an ‘angry black woman’

In that moment, I kept my composure, maintained professionalism but, I also  made it very clear I knew why they were treating me differently  and that  I wasn’t going anywhere and was not threatened by their actions and behaviour.

Fast forwarding in the same role. The next meeting, they couldn’t have been nicer to me, in fact their niceness was too late for they had already shown who they were, which was fine with me. As the saying goes. Knowledge is power. And the famous words of Maya Angelou – ‘When people show you who they are believe them the first time’.

The experience I had that day in that meeting continues to follow me in different ways along my career path. However, the behaviour may be somewhat more subtle and even polite and therefore it may be hard at times to call it what it is. But, if you are true to yourself and work to stay one step ahead, you can overcome this.

I have plenty of tools to help you with this. In fact, I am so passionate about this I am now a trained life coach and am also only a few months away from qualifying as an Internal Mediation – i.e., conflict resolution.

More Stories

Elaine’s Story

I simply replied: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I can see from the expressions on your faces, I am not what you had expected. Given that I have communicated with you all verbally as well as via email and have also received praise from you for my work on this project, could you possibly imagine my position in seeing you all shocked to know it was me you were working with after seeing me in person?’

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Alejandra’s Story

I felt so at home with my new nickname that to this day, I introduce myself to native English speakers as “Ally” and to native Spanish speakers as “Nathia” (something associated with always being called by my first name in Colombia).

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