Throughout Season 3 of the iconic HBO hit series “Insecure,” we watched as Molly, played by comedian Yvonne Orji, finds herself at odds with a male coworker who not only keeps stealing her thunder — but also manages to bring out the worst in her. A sassy, and occasionally problematic character, Molly struggles with self-actualization — as she’s developed a checklist of sorts for her life and finds herself struggling to check all the proverbial boxes (read: husband, 2.5 kids, killer career, etc.). In her efforts to control all of the circumstances in her life in hopes of creating a picture perfect life, she finds herself taking cutthroat measures and making hurtful assumptions. And by the end of the season we saw it all backfire, as she ends up isolating her new coworkers and left to handle a major project at work without any support.
In Molly’s defense, her spiral began when said male colleague at her new job repeatedly upstaged her and pounced on various opportunities faster than she could say “I volunteer.” While Molly did not handle the situation as best she could (by obsessively working late, getting high, and taking cutthroat measures against her professional peers), there are many ways to handle difficult work situations in a healthy manner.
For National Boss Day today, instead of celebrating traditional bosses at work, we’re sharing the many ways women of color work and handle professional slights or difficult situations and we’re calling out whether they’re worth fighting (the way Molly did) or falling back.
Your Coworker Is Taking Credit for Your Work: Fall Back
These days, many modern workplaces reinforce and highlight a “team environment” as a core value — one where everyone will work late to support a group of coworkers with a looming deadline or team members take turns bringing cupcakes to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. But what happens when a coworker from said “team” takes full responsibility for your home run or blocks every opportunity for you to shine?
Molly experienced a degree of this when her male coworker snatched every opportunity to shine in front of their law firm’s partners, often leaving Molly little to no chance to show her stuff.
According to the career counseling website, The Muse, it’s important to share your big ideas and projects in a public sphere (versus confiding in a less-than-trustworthy coworker who may run to sell the idea or work as their own) to protect your intellectual property. Aside from that though, the experts also suggest knowing when to let go.
The experts suggest: “Here’s the thing about getting credit: You’re not going to get it for everything you do. That’s just part of the job, and it’s part of being on a team.”
You Made a Minor Mistake and Someone’s Making a Major Deal of It: Fall Back
Mistakes at work can feel embarrassing and even threatening depending upon their scale. According to Inc.com, it’s important not to allow them to cause you to fall apart — even if there is a particular coworker who is absolutely freaking out. Instead of taking the bait and getting upset or defensive, it’s important to acknowledge it, apologize (without overdoing it or coming across as panicked or out of control), and accept what comes next.
It is most important though, to fix the mistake and take measures to improve. Stefanie Collazo, 38, a New York City social worker, explains how to handle even the toughest work mistake like a boss.
“I’ve definitely made a big mistake at work, but I apologized and made sure to fix it right away,” said Collazo. “One time, I was met with blame and anxiety from management. In turn, I felt like the repair of the mistake was not sufficient. I also noticed I felt more guilty. I made actual notes to myself so the mistakes wouldn’t happen again and I could always refer back to them if needed.”
You’re New and Other Women Are Not Welcoming You: Fight
Being the odd woman out is never a great feeling when you already have anxiety about performing well on a new job. But it’s important to do more than just “fall back” and play the sheepish, new girl role forever. To create a sense of community (and ease your own anxiety) you’ll have to take measures to step out of your comfort zone and form bonds. After all, you’ll be spending most of your time with your colleagues.
Ana Caceres, 22, a Wahington D.C. publicist, suggests getting out of the office and making your best effort to connect with coworkers about more than just work.
“I think the best way to connect with coworkers is to leave the office,” she suggests. “It might seem bold to ask people to get drinks after work, so I would ease my way into hanging out by asking if anyone wants to take a fitness class. There’s bound to be someone working out after work, and its an easy way to get to know someone.”
Colleagues Often Make Racially Insensitive Comments or Take Racially Offensive Actions: Fight It
Many of us have experienced colleagues who simply have not been exposed to the basic principles of racial boundaries (and they somehow skipped every racial sensitivity training). From the colleague who asks to touch your hair when you’re rocking your natural ‘fro to the colleague who makes strange faces and scrunches their nose when you bring homemade food, to the colleague who expects you to be the voice of all Latinx people when topics surrounding multicultural people come up.
In these instances, while it’s important to protect your mental wellness by not stepping into the role of global representative for your race — responsible for educating the masses on how to treat people of color — it’s also important to stand up for yourself. Explain to your coworkers publicly or in private why you’re uncomfortable with what was said or asked of you, and when in doubt, head directly to Human Resources. Most organizations have a code of ethics that require HR to address any discrimination that occurs in the office. You have a right to feel comfortable at work.