Dear Mr. Boss,
Let me open my letter by asserting that I have appreciated your reliable support and kindhearted mentorship over the last few months. I thank you for challenging the boundaries of my comfort zone, and trusting in my decision making in a field that is, in most ways, very new to me. Navigating the turbulent tides of a social enterprise start up in Kenya can be tricky; thoughtful management is a principal key to success for our staff and our business.
Disappointingly, Mr. Boss, your actions as a manager are not always thoughtful, which is why I am writing. I fear that by maintaining the sunny disposition that I am prone to as an eager-to-please young professional, I serve to perpetuate a system that values men above women by the virtue that they are men. I’m not down with that.
I am inspired to write because of an offhand comment that you made during one of our twice-weekly phone chats last week. You mentioned that you’d be happy to visit the coast – my geographic domain as Regional Sales Manager – to see how our efforts are faring and participate in one of our sales events. You then added, evidently to seem supportive and encouraging, that if I am to encounter any deals “too hard to close” on my own, that I should feel welcome to call upon you, “a mzungu1 man,” to help me get the job done.
I do not seek to delve into the racial implications of your offer in this letter. The racial context in which you and I work is relatively unique, and I don’t have a good enough grasp on the complicated racial hierarchy of urban Kenya to speak confidently or articulately of our (inarguably privileged) place as white people.
Since “mzungu” is an attribute that we share – we are both white outsiders from the tri-state area working in East Africa – let’s focus on the “man” element of the business expertise that you so valiantly offered to lend to me in the face of a tough sale.
I feel comfortable admitting that there are factors beyond our control that I believe to be at play:
- Sexism in sales, as in almost every profession under the sun, is prevalent, and comes in many forms. You wish to combat this unfortunate trend by helping out a female colleague.
- Your offers are well intended, and you hope that I thrive at work, both for my own professional development as well as the success of the company.
- Being born a man in modern America, you’ve been granted a special brand of self-esteem akin to a superpower, which you believe able to make the impossible possible.
But, I fear that you are overlooking a number of less obvious, but equally important factors concurrently at play:
- I work tirelessly and consciously, each and every day, to overcome systemic sexism in the workplace, whether that means “keeping up with the boys” in the office and in sales meetings, or dealing with endless bullshit like this:
- You won’t help me or the company succeed if you run to my aid at the first sign of adversity. Instead, you will stifle my capacity to solve problems and think on my feet, and limit your time for important work beyond my pay grade because you’ll be spending too much time professionally-Supermanning your professional-Lois Lane.
- Being born a woman in modern America, I’ve been granted a special brand of determination, akin to stubbornness, to succeed by my own merit in a world that tells me that I shouldn’t be able or allowed to do so.
Mr. Boss, I know you are only trying to be helpful, but you are a cog in a destructive machine. I will not fuel your machine.
Ms. Anna Hess
Regional Sales Manager; Bullshit Refuter
- mzungu: foreigner; usually used to describe white people in Kenya