My Pandemic-Era Promotion Presents Unexpected Challenges
Illustration: Michael Kennedy

My Pandemic-Era Promotion Presents Unexpected Challenges

New title. New money. Still Black.

I would say it’s been a long time, but these days, 24 hours feels like either 24 minutes or an eternity, no in-between. Instead, I’ll say it’s been a while since I’ve last shared my experiences of being the Only Black Guy in the Office. If this is your first time reading this column, welcome. Hope you’re well.

Unlike Power or The Wire, the stories I tell here do not exist in some linear narrative where you have to go back and read all my old joints (though if you have time and you’ve finished binging You on Netflix, here’s an introduction as well as an archive for you to sift through). In truth, though, you can start here because, well, even to all my longtime readers (what up, y’all?!) I have, as folks like to say on Twitter, some personal news: Your boy got promoted!

Shortly after writing my last column back in July, I was unexpectedly upgraded to the role of senior manager of marketing. I say “unexpectedly” because if it wasn’t obvious to anyone reading this column, I was spending more time trying to make moves than aiming for a swaggy role at my current company. The antsiness wasn’t about wanting more money so much as it was about wanting to see more melanin in my Zoom meetings. Essentially, I was tired of actually being damn near the only Black guy in the office.

But as it turns out, my code-switching skills and the quality of my work made an impression on the powers that be. And I can admit, the offer to be promoted felt good. Despite moments of frustration, I’ve worked my ass off, so it’s nice to feel my contributions are appreciated. I guess “stay low and keep firing” is a sound strategy to getting ahead, word to Big. But I’m also learning that with great power comes great responsibility, word to Ben.

Am I going to end up being the type of manager who frustrates my direct reports so much they end up writing a blog about me?

Since starting my new role in August, the adjustments I’ve had to make are more internal than external. I wasn’t about to make like Kanye and start using my White voice just because I’m now the only Black guy in our weekly managers-only meetings. I haven’t become stricken with imposter syndrome because as it turns out, a lot of my responsibilities as senior manager were things I’ve been doing for the last six months. The promotion is really the company paying me what they owe me. Bout damn time.

The biggest shift I’ve had to make as a senior manager has been the aspect of managing other people. I went from complaining about my manager and other tenured executives to being a member of senior leadership in the eyes of my interns and direct reports. To them, I’m their boss. To me, I’m still, in the words of the late Shock G, “just another Black man caught up in the mix, trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents.”

Management — and collaboration in general — is especially tricky when an employee-favoring job market has the staff directory looking like a game of musical damn chairs. Sure, the turnover that’s been rampant at my gig and elsewhere is stressful as hell (especially when some of the homies chuck the deuces), but it’s also helped to create some opportunities for deserving folks such as yours truly. Gotta take the good with the bad, I suppose.

So, we’re going to see how this goes. Yes, the bag is bigger, but at what costs? Am I going to end up being the type of manager who frustrates my direct reports so much they end up writing a blog about me? Is my seat at the table in the managers-only meeting going to be for show or will I actually have some sort of influence? Will I be able to help bring more Black people onto the team now that I’ve got some more interview committee clout? How many work lunches can I expense on my brand new corporate card before the finance department starts raising a red flag?

Two months into my new role, I’m still trying to figure out the answer to these questions, along with whether I should update my LinkedIn photo. The answers will come to me soon enough — as will more questions. And when they do, I’m going to be sharing them again, here, with y’all. Talk soon.

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