Coffee Talk

What is working as a HoH individual in Corporate America like?

Corporate America.

For some it is the big bad wolf, while for others it’s the greatest thing ever. It evokes a range of emotions that continuously oscillate between joy and frustration, exhaustion even. As with many other jobs, Corporate America has its good and its bad, but the thing is it is so varied, with so many industries within the umbrella known as corporate.

To narrow it down, I work in the Financial Sector of Corporate America. Think big banks such as Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, and many others. For me this job has been a blessing–it isn’t client facing, and I mostly spend my days quietly working on my computer, doing research. I’ve got great benefits, great co-workers, and there’s plenty of opportunities for me because I’m good at what I do.

All of this is HUGE. I’ve worked at the retail branch of a major US bank, and it was by far the worst experience you could think of. Never mind nasty clients, retail banking requires that tellers and Relationship Managers sell “products” such as checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, loans, direct deposits, and mobile banking, to their customers coming into the branch. It’s how the banks make money, and while the “how” was never quite clear to me, it was very obvious that the banks were never doing the right thing for their clients or their employees. Numbers had to be met so that clients could have more products that they don’t need. It wasn’t my style to push products down people’s throats, and there were less and less customers coming into the branch because more of them were doing banking online. The pressure and competition was immense, so quite frankly, it didn’t surprise me when the Wells Fargo scandal headlined in 2016, which has now resulted in a $3 billion fine for the bank. I’m sure Wells Fargo was not the only bank, as the retail bank I worked for seemed to have similar pressures.

My first job was working as a teller at a retail branch, which has been nothing short of a nightmare. Both my direct supervisor and my boss, the branch manager, knew about my hearing loss and that it was hard for me to hear over noise. One of the biggest issues was the large wall of very tall windows, the bare floors and the huge open space that made everything echo. I’ve raised it several times as being the reason why it’s hard to follow conversation, but at no point was I asked if there’s a way to make it better, which I don’t think would have been possible considering that I can’t change architecture. On top of that, the computers did not have any messenger capabilities–so at the time, the only way to converse with my co-workers was either through phone or them screaming at each other, over the noise of the money-counting machines. The supervisor wasn’t kind either–she had the tendency to threaten her workers, though some people apparently thought that was funny. Overall, it was a difficult and hostile environment, but I’d rather come out with my head held high.

One of the biggest things that shocked me while I was working there was when the Branch Manager said that I should tell the clients that I’m hard-of-hearing. I was appalled. It was not his place to suggest such a thing, as this is something that I choose to disclose when I want to, and he could not even begin to understand what it’s like to deal with hearing loss.. Moreover, It’s not the first thing I want people to know about me. Imagine going up to a teller at your local branch, and the first thing they say to you “Hi, I’m Victoria, and I’m hard of hearing. How can I help you today?”

What the heck are you supposed to do with that information?

Most people don’t know how to even approach a person like this, and they get frustrated quickly, because they just want to deposit their money and get out of the bank. They’re not there for chit-chat; they don’t want to know your problems or solve them either. So telling them meant spending extra minutes holding them back from moving along with their days.

Ultimately, it was such a horrible experience, and I often ended up crying when I had a one-on-one conversation with my boss. I felt attacked every time. So there were two ways–either suck it up, or find another job. I chose the latter.

When I handed in my resignation in October to my boss, I had been there 9 months. I sat down with him at the end of the work day, just as we were closing up and finalizing some documents for the branch, and handed him the letter. One of the more subtler movements, but still there nonetheless, was the way his shoulders sagged and relaxed, as if a weight had been lifted off of him. He started talking to me a little looser than a boss, and a bit more friendlier, asking me about my new job. In those subtler changes, I knew that my days had been numbered at that branch, because I wasn’t performing to their level. I also played my job a little closer to the heart, not telling my boss at the time what I was doing exactly–just the bank that I was going to–because I knew it would lead to more questions. After all, getting a back-office job after 9 months at a client facing job would have seemed strange to him, and comparatively speaking, if I had the same job at that bank, I would have been one of the people he had to answer to.

In any case, by 2015, I found a second job in Corporate America, this time with my current financial institution. It has been such a DIFFERENT experience.

On my first day at the job, people have been welcoming, and the Head of the Department even took me aside to ask if there’s anything that I need in order to do my job effectively with my hearing loss. While there are some deficiencies in the workplace–for example meetings, or conference calls are harder to follow–overall, my experience has been positive. The bank has messaging applications in place, so I can use that to reach out to anyone anywhere in the bank, without picking up the phone and worrying that I will not hear well. In the nearly five years I’ve worked at my company, I have used the telephone twice, because it’s easier to send a message than pick up the phone and everyone uses it. Furthermore, because there is such a push for inclusion, with committees/groups that strive for diversity in work place, not just by ethnicity but also by disability, people are welcoming of these differences, . Even though they may not know everything about hearing loss, which really is a lack of education on my part, they are usually patient and the tools that I have at hand have more than made up the gap.

I have felt valued at this company, and have done my best work here, being able to completely shine in a way that I had not been able to do so in the other job. I have grown from an analyst to being a Team Lead who is in charge of a team ranging between 2 and 6 people (although I have handled up to 26 at one point for training), so it has been just as challenging to learn how to navigate the management world with my hearing loss. But it hasn’t been impossible.

So as you can see, being a hard of hearing individual in the corporate world as well as the financial industry is not any different than in any other. You can have both good and bad experiences with different institutions within the same sphere, so it’s just a matter of finding one that allows you to flourish and learn while being supportive of you in the way that allows you to work best.

What industry do you work for? Do you have any questions for me? Comment below!

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