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My employer hires exclusively white managers and promotes people of ‘questionable expertise.’ Is this a good or bad time to jump ship?

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Dear Quentin,

I work for a very large tech company. I have a Ph.D. in biochemistry. I joined this company because they were supposedly starting a new initiative in biology. At the time of hiring, it was not disclosed to me what I would be working on. 

However, when I arrived at the company, I realized that the scientific idea was weak. The group also has a bigger problem: My employer hires exclusively white men and people of questionable expertise to managerial positions.All of the managers had much less experience, let alone relevant experience, than me and several other people of color. I see this as racism. I have invested three years at this company and provided a lot of valuable experience that nobody else in the company possessed.

My manager has expressed praise for me only in very mild terms, and only in personal meetings. He has never expressed any appreciation in an open forum or in a formal way. He has denied me a promotion, or even a formal appreciation in the form of accolades. I have discussed my situation with my manager’s manager. This person commented that I have no leadership qualities, and at another time commented that I appear rude and that my English is broken. Neither of these observations is accurate. 

However, this person‘s comments left me utterly distressed. I felt like a failure, and as if I should not expect anything good out of my life. I have tried speaking with more senior leaders in the group, and they seem unable to help me or change the situation, although they acknowledge different issues like the lack of relevant experience among the managers. I am debating whether to just resign from this position, or stay here until I find a better position. 

This may sound very simple, but there are issues such as financial and mental health involved. Therefore, I would like to see an expert opinion to help me arrive at a decision, or narrow down factors that can help me decide my future course of action. Thank you so much for your help. 

An Unhappy Employee

Related: My brothers are co-owners of $1.9 million of our mother’s bank and brokerage accounts. She now has Alzheimer’s. How can I rectify this?

“We spend 40 hours a week at work, and it should be a psychologically safe space for all workers. It’s how we pay for food, housing and other essential needs, so an unsafe, chaotic or unstable workplace impacts many other aspects of our lives.”

MarketWatch illustration

Dear Unhappy,

Bide your time — and keep your powder dry.

Your first priority is to take action to deal with your mental health. Your second is to document all relevant conversations you have with colleagues and managers, particularly those that appear to show bias against your race, color or national origin, as well as any retaliatory actions that may result from your speaking up. Record dates, times and what was said, using a personal notebook or a non-work-issued device, as these experts in the field advise. We spend 40 hours a week at work, and it should be a psychologically safe space for all workers. It’s how we pay for food, housing and other essential needs, so an unsafe, chaotic or unstable workplace impacts many other aspects of our lives.

Assemble a team to support you through this: a therapist, trusted friends and even an employment attorney. Contacting human resources can be a double-edged sword: HR is there to provide a work environment that is free from toxicity and racist behavior, but it’s primarily there to protect the company. However, you have the law on your side. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination on the basis of race; color; religion; sex, including pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity; national origin; age, for employees age 40 or older; disability; and genetic information. It does not cover political speech or political affiliation. If you do speak with HR, document that conversation too.

Your next step might include pursuing a federal claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This is required before you can file a lawsuit. But remember: This is a chapter in your life, and you may walk through one door — perhaps a neon-red one spelling the word “exit” — and through another door leading to a more fulfilling and rewarding work environment. It’s all too easy to believe that the workplace is your entire life, particularly when you have worked so hard to make it to a particular level of seniority. But everyone deserves respect at work, whether they’re a janitor, middle management or a senior-level executive.

Microaggressions and gaslighting 

Microaggressions can include being excluded from meetings that you would normally attend, being iced out of projects or even post-work social engagements, or receiving comments about your English proficiency. The latter, in particular, is egregious in that it appears to relate to your ethnic background, and you deserve to work in an environment where colleagues treat you with respect. The act of documenting microaggressions and sending out your resume for new jobs will, I assure you, help you rebuild your self-confidence and empower you to take the next step. 

The U.S. economy added 353,000 new jobs in January — economists polled by the Wall Street Journal forecasted a 185,000 increase — and the unemployment rate remained at 3.7%; it has not been this low since the late 1960s. The job-growth outlook for biochemists and biophysicists over the next decade is 7%, higher than the 3% average growth for all jobs. The latest job openings and labor turnover survey showed a steep decline, likely meaning there are not as many attractive or well-paid jobs available. 

But even in a strong labor market, it’s always better to have somewhere to jump to. If at all possible, you’ll want to avoid adding financial pressures to your emotional and professional stress. You have taken the biggest step of all: You recognize your workplace as structurally and fundamentally dysfunctional. It’s not your job to fix every workplace where you find such issues. But it is your job — for your own mental health and career — to recognize if and when a company is an unhealthy place for you to work.

You have made the decision that this job is not a long-term prospect. You are no longer being gaslighted by your company. Gaslighters tend to portray themselves as people who are there to help or support you, but are actually doing the opposite: undermining your confidence with subtle jabs and, when your back is turned, making sure that you are prevented from progressing despite your demonstrating the requisite talent, skill and initiative. That does not mean you have to leave today or tomorrow, but you can set the ball in motion now.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

Previous columns by Quentin Fottrell:

‘I don’t like the idea of dying alone’: I’m 54, twice divorced and have $2.3 million. My girlfriend wants to get married. How do I protect myself?

‘If I say the sky is blue, she’ll tell me it’s green’: My daughter, 19, will inherit $800,000. How can she invest in her future?

‘They have no running water’: Our neighbors constantly hit us up for money. My husband gave them $400. Is it selfish to say no?

I’m going to end up paying taxes on 85% of my Social Security benefits in retirement. What will my final check look like?

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