The ‘Emotional Tax' That Black Women Face In The Workplace

04/25/2017 06:44 am ET Updated May 05, 2017
Willie B. Thomas via Getty Images

While there’s a dearth of women at the top of organisations, ethnic minority women are almost invisible. In 2016, 98 per cent of all FTSE 100 chairs are white; 96 per cent of its chief executive officers are white; and 95 per cent of the chief financial officers are white.

We know that minority women face a barrage of additional barriers holding them back in the workplace, meaning they feel they need to work harder and better than other team members.

Catalyst found this ‘Emotional Tax’ can negatively impact health and success: about 45% of Black women and men who felt different due to their race and gender had sleep problems, and 54% of those who felt different on both felt that they had to be “on guard” for potential discrimination and bias.

These feelings of being different and ‘on guard’ can affect how Black women perform. It may lead them to feeling they need to be vigilant and ‘self-police’ their behaviour, so as to not let their ‘guard’ down. Getting less sleep when unrealistic expectations are too much to bear, can also make them more anxious and less productive than they would be.

This additional psychological burden, or ‘emotional tax’, that they feel is linked to them feeling like outsiders, different to their peers and this negative can impact not only their work but also their health and well-being.

To counter this undue burden, managers need to create an inclusive working culture where difference is acknowledged and embraced, while also recognising commonalities to make team members feel like they ‘belong’.

Everyone has unconscious biases, even the best-intentioned people; and, often those biases play out in their everyday lives and interactions. However, ethnic minority women face a unique set of challenges that intersect across race/ethnicity, gender, and culture forcing them to deal with other people’s beliefs, attitudes, and experiences.

Speaking up, rather than remaining silent, is essential. And we all play an important role in creating an inclusive culture and speaking up. Don’t shy away from talking about uncomfortable or difficult topics. Each of us—regardless of our race or gender—has a role to play.

Often, valuing different perspectives and learning about people as individuals can challenge biases and help resolve potential conflict in a positive way. We all have a responsibility to equip ourselves to have meaningful conversations in search of a more inclusive environment.

When employees feel more included, they reported being more team-oriented and innovative. Catalyst research shows that employees report feeling included when they feel two things: 1) valued for their uniqueness; and 2) a sense of belonging. The potential to create a culture of inclusion is diminished every time we shy away from genuine conversations about the very things that make us unique.

We know that leaders who employ EACH behaviours of empowerment, accountability, courage and humility help team members feel ‘psychologically safe’ at work. Employees who feel ‘psychologically safe’ are more willing to take risks regardless of rank or status. And Catalyst research has found that those risks can pay dividends from employees reporting being more innovative at work, leading business to do things differently to enhance their results.

Governments, too, need to be leading the way. In the UK, to complement its work on Women on Boards, a government supported initiative has been established to end mono-cultural boards in the FTSE 100 by 2021.

Addressing and acknowledging the specific challenges that ethnic women face in the workplace is essential for progress. All leaders, in our globalised economy, should be mindful of the need to create a diverse workforce to stop ‘group think’ and ensure that they better represent the market place and to create workplaces where everyone is valued, heard and has fair opportunities to succeed.

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