Danielle Miller: The Reality of Workplace Drama

Fighting to be seen is commonplace with Black women in the workplace, who often feel invisible. Many learn that with colleagues, perception is reality, and it can negatively impact the trajectory of your career.  When the office is the city of Orlando on national TV with millions of viewers, navigating the effects of negative perceptions may be less about being seen and more about being understood.

San Diego native Danielle Miller, a 30-year-old entrepreneur and reality TV Star of “Basketball Wives: Orlando”, knows all too well how others’ views in the workplace, especially when they differ from personal truth, may cause you to fight – both literally and figuratively – to protect your story. “Basketball Wives: Orlando” is the No. 1 most watched social reality series on cable in terms of total interactions, according to Yahoo! Finance. Despite the show’s success, since its debut on Oct. 9, Danielle has received sharp criticism from some of her cast-mate colleagues. Labeled a “mean girl”, a term that makes her seethe, she shared on IG Live that she believes the show’s editing deliberately portrays her that way because sensationalism sells.

Danielle Miller (photo courtesy of Basketball Wives: Orlando)

However, Danielle doesn’t seem to need a gimmick to draw attention. At 5’8’’ with deep dark-brown skin, athletic curves and legs for days, she stands out. On the phone, she is the same as she appears on-screen—direct, funny, confident and endearing. Watching her on the show she’s calculated, determined and a little guarded when she enters a room – a demeanor she may have developed from years of going against some of the best players in college basketball and then overseas.

In 2015, she played professional basketball in the Euroleague system at SIAULIAI-UNIVERSITETAS in Lithuania, where she led her team to score. Previously, as a guard at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV), she was known as a top defender in the Mountain West. That label, defender, continues to follow her on “Basketball Wives: Orlando”, where she finds herself in constant battle – verbally and physically – with her cast-mates over her past relationship, office gossip and the honor of her friends. What she sees as guarding her post, others may view as defensive.

While viewers will get to know her from the storyline about a severed 10-year relationship with her ex-fiancé and their tumultuous breakup, when she talks about herself the focus is on personal and professional accomplishments. Outside of her career in basketball, Danielle’s highlight reel shows her master’s degree in criminal justice, her most recent executive positions in the non-profit sector and being a mom to two beautiful kids.

photo courtesy: Las Vegas Review Journal

“It’s crazy because I was in the delivery room giving birth to my daughter, taking my final to finish my master’s degree. Yes, and he thought I was crazy, but I’m like, I couldn’t not get it done, so I was like, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ It was important for me, while he was playing in the NBA, to always maintain my own career.”

In Minnesota, where her ex is from, she was committed to helping reduce recidivism and was focused on providing criminal offenders a chance to return to their lives with the support they need. A role that came with unique drama and stark realities, but Danielle thrived in that environment.

“I was pretty much helping people become well-rounded individuals and law-abiding in a way that promotes a more healthy and safe Black community.”

Danielle found her footing, a promising career, a group of friends and meaningful contacts in the fight for justice that helped her grow as a professional and a member of the Minneapolis community. However, when her relationship took a turn, she packed up her children and moved back to the life she knew in San Diego, where she could get the support she needed to heal and rebuild.

According to Danielle, during a relationship counseling session, her then-fiancé revealed that he was no longer interested in a monogamous relationship, saying that lifestyle never appealed to him, and he wanted multiple partners.

This was news to Danielle, who put her WNBA dreams on hold to support his NBA career, had two children and was planning to spend her life with him.

“I was like, I have a choice here, and I am actually going to move back home to San Diego so you can live in this non-monogamous world, and I will live over here.”

Moving away was a hard blow to Danielle, whose parents’ 31-year marriage has always been “relationship goals” and the kind of union she thought they both wanted for themselves and their children. Now, it seems that she was alone in this desire.

She says she was manipulated and gaslit for the past 10 years. She is honest in sharing that their relationship was not perfect, neither was she, but she thought they were working through the normal issues in ‘love and basketball’ and believed they were on the same page in wanting marriage and a family.

“There’s like this thing where it’s like we’re trying to figure out what relationships look like in this day and age, and what is going to work long-term. Not a lot of us are getting married anymore, and that was like how I was raised. Obviously, I saw a successful marriage; whether it was up or down, they stuck through it.”

In the face of disappointment and a rocky co-parenting relationship, Danielle chose herself and turned heartbreak and single motherhood into a new job in reality TV. When she accepted the role on “Basketball Wives: Orlando”, she saw it as a career move and a platform to promote her upcoming business, Empowered by Danielle. However, right before she moved to Orlando to tape the show, she learned that her ex-fiancé was in a monogamous relationship with another cast-mate, and the job she thought she was hired to do had changed.

The producers were more interested in a love triangle and not a breakup story. It became clear the overlap between she and her new co-worker was juicy enough for its own storyline, causing confusion and hurt for Danielle who never thought she would be in this position.

“How we got to the reality TV of it all, I don’t know.”

A family breakup is difficult to experience in private, and it can be more traumatic when it is the focus of workplace drama. Navigating the loss while dealing with single motherhood and the possibility that your ex has moved on with someone you work with is called good reality TV, but in real life it’s an old fashioned heartbreak, and it is not a pretty picture.

While some viewers may see her as a “bitter baby mama”, Danielle feels she has the right to show her full-range of emotions, something that often carries a penalty for Black women. She wanted the dream, not the drama.

Danielle maintains that most of the drama stems from the shock that he had a girlfriend when he was so opposed to monogamy. She believes he targeted the cast-mate after learning they would be on the same show. All of this new information opened up old wounds just as she was getting to a place of accepting her single status.

“How could he do this?”

She knows that some questions in love will go unanswered. She’s forgiven herself for forgoing her passion, a career in basketball, for the promise of being with the man she loved. When asked what she would tell other Black women faced with the same choice, she says, “Always put yourself first, and always put your career first.”

Is Your Job Keeping You Single?

Over 66 percent of Black women are single, and almost 40 percent have never been married, as highlighted by the most recent census data.

While some Black women embrace the single life with no immediate plans to resume dating, others look at all their accomplishments at work, realizing that the heavy burden jobs place on Black women doesn’t leave much time or energy for romance. Many have to scale back on their work commitments to make time for romantic relationships.

Black women are opening up about the role their career-choices play in their love story.

Take Marin Heiskell, a senior manager at Deloitte in Chicago, for example. Marin is accomplished with three degrees from Ivy-League schools and a bright career ahead of her. She has a demanding job that she enjoys. Her consulting role requires 40-45 hours a week of client work plus an additional 15 hours per week participating in panel discussions and supporting research and recruitment. There is also a lot of travel with her role, and although travel has died down since COVID, and she can make more time for the people she loves, it wasn’t always the case.

“I’d be on the first flight out Monday morning, come back late Thursday night or even Friday morning, and then spend the weekend resting, recovering, doing laundry and repacking.”

Marin Heiskell, senior manager at Deloitte

Marin found that some men didn’t understand the nature of her job or why she was required to travel so often, which became a barrier to sustaining relationships.

“I think they are saying it from a place of both insecurity and just not being exposed to a lot of different types of careers. As a Black woman who works in consulting, I feel like people know the demands of a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or a banker but question the demands of my job.”

Dating expert M3rry works with smart, successful, busy Black women, guiding them through dating. She says she often hears that men are intimidated by successful Black women.

“If you are a woman that likes to live well and likes the luxuries of life, and he can’t provide it for you, then he is intimidated by you because you can provide it for yourself.”

M3rry: @ilovem3rry

Marin’s had to vet prospective partners differently and change her mindset. “In the past, I’ve said to myself: ‘I’m not married, and I don’t have any kids, then there’s no excuse for me not to be at XYZ level. And so, I gun really hard, kind of forgetting I’m cutting off my nose to spite my face.”

Dating coach, Anwar sees this scenario play out often with his clients. He believes that many Black women are programmed by their parents to focus on security and to make sure they can take care of themselves, which translates to education, jobs and money. Romance often gets pushed to the side to ensure survival, which equates to putting most of their time and energy into having a successful career.

“No, your job isn’t in the way because you have a boyfriend already, your career. And you are giving this career emotional, mental and spiritual space.”

Anwar: @DatingCoachAnwar

M3rry agrees. She acknowledges Black women have the pressure of success that may not be placed on other races of women. According to her, what’s really keeping them single is their lack of priorities, non-congruency and failure to include other races in their dating search.

“Does it matter if he’s Black? Does it matter that he looks a certain way? Or do you want to be taken care of? Sometimes what my clients say they want doesn’t match up to the men they are describing.”

Anwar believes that, even if the right guy presents himself, if Black women don’t have career boundaries or a level of vulnerability, starting and maintaining a successful romantic relationship will be challenging.

“If you are not vulnerable, it’s going to be really difficult for you to deeply connect with the man because it’s your vulnerability that is going to inspire his.”

He also says that many Black women have to learn how to date because it’s not something taught by most Black parents.

Fila Antwine, a relationship coach, also teaches her clients how to date. “Black women are not taught how to be partners, and we are not prepared for partnership.” She says that at a very young age, Black women are taught to protect themselves from men and to disconnect to achieve their goals.

“We are taught how to survive without men the first half of our lives.”

Fila Antwine: @sheisfila

Fila says career success and accomplishments become a source of pride and self-worth, but that narrative has to change to have their desired partnerships. She says that Black women are taught to be self-reliant and independent when real partnership comes from collaboration and being open to connecting with others.

“Black women have to dismantle all of the things they’ve built for themselves and figure out who they are and what they want.” She says for many, there isn’t any time to waste.

“The time is now. There is no f*cking clock.”

The Co-Parenting Tightrope: Its Impact on Your Career

Navigating co-parenting as a single or newly separated/divorced parent may not initially seem like a workplace issue. Still, its ripple effects permeate every part of life—positive and negative—and can affect job performance. For some, a dysfunctional parental relationship can include constant arguing, refusing to communicate or unpredictable visitation, which can result in missed meetings, late arrivals, having to leave early, calling in at the last minute, court dates and being distracted with phone calls.

Alysha Price, founder of The Price Dynamic, a professional family coaching and engagement consulting firm, sees this behavior often with her clients, including single and co-parenting families, struggling to create a functional structure that allows each person to flourish. A product of a co-parenting single-parent household, Price found herself in a difficult co-parenting relationship and used what she learned to create a better environment for her son.

Alysha Price, found of The Price Dynamic in Minneapolis, MN

“In my process of parenting, I realized how much I was repeating things that I had grown up around, things that happened in my household. I realized how much I wanted to change some of those things and improve.”

When it comes to the effects of co-parenting on job performance, Price says many are unprepared for the toll it can take on their careers.

“You’re present, but you’re not mentally present. You’re spending a lot of work time contacting attorneys, navigating school and those types of transitions that happen.”

Price says that aligning what happens after school and who picks up or drops off the kids to their extracurricular activities can be stressful for parents trying to deal with their emotions from the relationship breakdown.

The stress can also fuel illnesses for the adults and their children, causing more missed days at work.

“You’re being somewhat of an executive assistant to your new family dynamic, and attendance is severely affected by illness. When your child is moving back and forth from one household to the next, things are affected, like their sleep and stability, which, of course, adds to their not being well.”

Marissa Johnson understands the effects of parental relationships on a family’s ecosystem. As a licensed clinical social worker, she works with adults and children to help them work through issues that impact every facet of their lives, including co-parenting, which can tremendously impact the workplace. When she found herself in a dysfunctional relationship while pregnant, she had to take stock and change course.

“I tried to keep the relationship going, and then when I was about seven months pregnant, I was just like, ‘nah, I’m not going to do this.’”

Johnson had a difficult co-parenting relationship when her daughter was born, which spurred her to start grad school so she could eventually find employment that paid enough to support a single-parent household. In the second year of grad school, she quit her job to focus on school alone and survived solely off student loans.

Marissa Johnson, licensed clinical social worker @marissa.motivates

“When we were going through the courts, I was doing my internship in grad school. We had to do a practicum, and I remember I was so emotional because we had court the day before, and I had to explain to them why I couldn’t even get through a sentence.”

The stress took a toll on her mental health.

“It impacted how I was showing up in my classes and at work. I wasn’t able to give my full self.”

Johnson says her supervisor, a Black woman, also a single mom, helped her through the situation and didn’t make her feel embarrassed when she shared her situation.

Price explains that it is important for supervisors to be empathetic, but worrying about their employees with co-parenting issues can take a toll on the company. She developed “Family Meeting Cards” to help families make better decisions that can reduce the negative impact on their careers.

“We give our clients tools that put the onus back on the employee to deal with their family dynamics, but in the same sense, teach effective communication skills and skills to discern what is appropriate to share at work.”

TaShara Caldwell knows all too well how family dynamics can impact career paths. A paraprofessional completing her internship for her master’s, she has to give 600 hours of free labor on top of her current job, which has prolonged completing the requirements.

“It’s hard to do that when you’re trying to also work and work around someone’s schedule.”

TaShara Caldwell @ateacherthoushallnottry with daughter

She and her ex-husband, a firefighter with an unpredictable schedule, often barter and negotiate who will take off work when their child has a doctor’s appointment, is sick or has a school function. Caldwell says early in their separation, communication was rocky.

“We would get in these battles of who is going to take off work, kind of whose time is more valuable than the others.”

Caldwell looked to couples counseling, even though divorce was eminent, to figure out how to navigate their new dynamic.

“His schedule is going to be his schedule and I am going to be a mom forever, so even though we are not together, we share a Google Calendar.”

She says even with the shared calendar, when she has to take off work unplanned, it impacts her job even though it is common practice for moms to leave work to take care of their children.

“Schools automatically call mom, even though they have both numbers, they just call mom.”

Sometimes Caldwell’s supervisor will ask if her ex-husband can go instead, often followed by personal questions she does not want to answer.

“It’s frustrating because you don’t want to tell everybody your business.”

According to Price, when the co-parenting relationship begins affecting job performance, employees should keep their chats with managers “brief to minimum” while communicating their needs and leave out details that are not necessary to share. She recommends talking with human resources to ensure a documented paper trail. 

When the parents cannot work together constructively, parallel parenting may be an option. This method allows each person to parent separately in all aspects of their child’s life, including doctor’s appointments, sports games and birthday parties. Text-only communication or using apps, such as Talking Parent, may stop parents from disruptive, negative communication yet allow them to keep abreast of schedules that include work trips, conferences or shift changes.

Johnson says text-only communication worked the best for her and her co-parent. Their relationship and her career improved when she took her emotions out of the situation and focused on herself.

“It’s very possible for you to have everything you want career-wise and still be a good mother. When things like this happen that set us back, like having to co-parent with people who aren’t easy to co-parent with, you start to develop these beliefs that it’s not possible or it’s too hard.  You can’t do it.”