A Black Woman's Burden: The Cost of Corporate 'Excellence'

Antoinette Candia-Bailey's death is a cry for corporate America to shed performance and embrace genuine inclusion

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The recent tragic passing of Antoinette Candia-Bailey, the vice president of Student Affairs at Lincoln University, strikes a deeply personal chord. It has taken time to fully process the tragedy, the depth of loss and the raw truth her experience exposes. Especially now, on the first day of Black History Month, because Dr. Candia-Bailey’s story is not an isolated incident, but a reality tragically reflected in recent studies like Lean In’s The State of Black Women in Corporate America, which continually highlight the duress that only anonymity offers a voice to.

A trail of breadcrumbs leading to the often-unspoken challenges faced by Black women in corporate spaces, mirroring my own experiences as someone who has navigated similar terrain while grappling with bipolar disorder and ADHD. In Dr. Candia-Bailey’s life, we see the stark intersectionality of adversity, a reminder that the battles we fight can be multi-pronged, layered and ever-present.

My journey began young, at 14 when I was often, but not always, the product of a single-income household. Two younger siblings, limited resources and an unspoken pressure to contribute fueled every step, every ambition. That silent demand for being a contributor at such a young age impacts a lot of Black professionals and creates the foundation for our thinking—an urgency to run away from poverty and to give back to our homes.

When I entered the workforce as a file clerk at a medical college, I was stepping into a corporate world light years away from the promises of “diversity.” Even a decade ago, inclusion was a mirage on the horizon, barely a blip on the radar of employee experiences. These 22 years in the corporate world have been a masterclass in navigating the labyrinth of inequity.

I internalized the deficit narrative, the cultural understanding that demanded Black excellence be tenfold to barely graze the surface of career acknowledgment or growth. The micro-aggressions, the gaslighting and the subtle undermining were insidious, chipping away at my confidence, my self-worth and my very sense of belonging. Every promotion denied, every opportunity withheld, became a silent echo in the chambers of my mind.

And who dared, in that era, to speak of the invisible impediment of mental illness and neurodivergence? Our worth, so brutally tied to perceived productivity, crumbled under the weight of stigma and silence.

We, the Black women with neurodivergent minds and burdened souls, carry the weight of multiple worlds. We are the code-switchers, the emotion monitors, the performers in a play with an unwritten script of expectations. And when the weight becomes too much, when the whispers turn to roars, who catches our fall?

The statistics paint a grim picture. Black women in long hours, burdened by the pursuit of “Black excellence,” succumb to chronic stress and ill health. We offer our blood, sweat and tears, only to be told it’s not enough.

Antoinette Candia-Bailey’s story is not an anomaly; it’s a tragic symptom of a systemic disease. It’s a call to action, a cry for corporate America to shed the performance of diversity and embrace genuine inclusion and equity. Doubling down on DEI is not just the right thing, it’s the urgent, strategic move that will fuel our future success.

Why? Beyond the moral imperative lies a business impact that companies often overlook:

We’re bleeding talent. As the most recent “Women in the Workplace” report starkly reveals, microaggressions are a mental minefield, breeding grounds for low morale, burnout and a desperate yearning to escape. Diverse minds and voices offer unique perspectives and drive innovation. Stifling them through biased misperceptions or a culture of microaggressions leads to wasted potential and lost competitive edge. We can’t afford that in today’s dynamic landscape.

Psychological safety isn’t optional, it’s essential. Fostering psychological safety through inclusive environments, flexible work options, and neurodiversity-friendly accommodations is not just compassionate, it’s strategically smart. It unlocks the full potential of every individual, leading to happier, more productive teams.

Representation isn’t a trophy, it’s a bridge. Seeing diverse leaders isn’t just aspirational, it’s crucial. It creates empathy, understanding and mentorship channels for those navigating similar paths. Diverse leadership understands the nuances of different lived experiences and can guide others through the systemic hurdles they have overcome. It’s not just about optics, it’s about building bridges for the future.

Antoinette Candia-Bailey may be gone, but her legacy lives on. It lives in the collective pain of Black women, in the deterioration unchecked environments have on our mental health, and in the quiet defiance of neurodivergent minds.

This is not just about mourning a brilliant mind lost, but about confronting the systemic inequities that pushed her, and countless others, over the edge. It’s a demand for action, for genuine introspection, for a corporate landscape where neurodivergence and mental health are not liabilities, but valued and accepted elements of the human experience. It’s a glaring reminder of the cost we, Black women in corporate America, pay for the elusive prize of “success.”

It’s time to break the cycle, to shatter the glass ceiling and to build a world where all brilliance can thrive, unburdened by the weight of unspoken struggles. We owe it to ourselves, to Antoinette, and to the generations to come.