I giggled as I typed the title to this article. Why? Because who would have thought that Karen would become so well-known for her behavior that it would spark a universal understanding of how to identify her. She is everywhere, in the parking lot, at the mall, in the gas station, and in the parks. She never holds her tongue and she take stance on being right about everything even when she is dead wrong. Despite the funny videos and the obvious discriminatory behavior of Karen, it is important to note, Karen is in the work office as well. Oh yes, she hangs in every conference room, hugs a coffee cup, and whispers to other Karen’s nearby. However, it is also important to note Karen does not always have the old school spiked hair sometimes she likes to call herself a beauty queen. She is competitive in the workplace with the latest styles and most expensive purse. She wants you to know she is ahead of you in every way possible so she arrives with an entourage, sets random lunch dates, and waits for you to acknowledge her first. She is entitled, well connected, and ready to show you your place at any given point. Think devil wears Prada.
The corporate Karen moves slightly differently because she knows the value of having support for her wrongdoing. She befriends those above her and stands on the heads of those below her. Karen in the workplace is ruthless. To call her out could be the end of your career. Death by 1000 tiny stabs, or just one blow so difficult you are halted from moving forward or sideways for that matter. Karen knows she has this power and using it at her leisure. The difference with the office place and central park is the person on the other end of Karen’s racist fury can’t pull out their phone in the private meetings, they also have little recourse of action with HR because Karen has the authority, the backing, and the support for her horrible management. In fact, she may often receive rewards saying she is the best because that is how Karen’s are carried by their peers. One camera, one mic could end a Karen and all her allies but in corporate America, it’s considered treason to record those interactions openly. So here we are facing the truth. Karen is in the workplace, she is actively stalling careers, painting negative pictures, and soliciting help from her willing peers. She has been doing it for years and although we know this her actions continue to be justified by the companies that do not take responsibility for the Karen’s they help to create. Karen runs a mock in corporate America creating small versions of herself as she goes. That is who is promoted and praised even when unwarranted. As we fight the good fight on justice for black and brown people don’t forget about the Karen’s and Kens in corporate America. Here are three unique ways to sniff them out, address your culture, and move forward with confidence.
- Take complaints about discrimination, race, and toxic culture seriously.
- Review surveys with humility. Do not assume the responses are incorrect or non-applicable some feedback is the honest truth and the more they are disregarded the truer the statements become for those brave enough to report it.
- All employees deserve a career path, one person should not dictate or control that truth. Take responsibility for ensuring employees are given their fair chance to create the career they want for themselves.
- Remove Karen – When she is identified and called out, remove her power to control all the above advice with ease. The longer she is in control the more the overall culture suffers.
More about the Author
Dr. Amera McCoy is an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist who is the Owner and Founder of McCoy Consulting LLC, an organization that offers a suite of services for businesses and individuals including coaching, writing, and workshops.