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The workplace stress of women of colour in the US

Dnika J.Travis
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A new report, Day-to-Day Experiences of Emotional Tax Among Women and Men of Colour in the Workplace, finding that a majority of women of colour – specifically individuals who identify with Asian, Black, Latinx and multiracial backgrounds – experience an “Emotional Tax” in US workplaces, affecting their overall health, well-being and ability to thrive.  As a result of some workplaces undervaluing their unique contributions, as well as acts of bias or discrimination in society, women of colour are in a constant state of being “on guard” because of their gender, race and/or ethnicity. Contributor Dnika J. Travis, PhD, Vice President, Research – Catalyst.

“Women of colour continue to deal with some of the workplace’s most entrenched hurdles such as pay inequities and near invisibility in top leadership roles, as well as daunting roadblocks that stifle the meaningful dialogue that would help make real progress,” says Dnika J. Travis, PhD, Vice President, Research, Catalyst.

“Over time, these daily battles take a heavy toll on women of colour, creating a damaging link between their health and the workplace. And because of consequences associated with Emotional Tax, companies must begin to take intentional action to avoid possible harm to their businesses and employees’ health and well-being,” she said.

Key findings include: Emotional Tax—There is a psychological burden levied on women of colour because of exclusionary behaviours, affecting their overall health and well-being as well as making them feel constantly on guard. The 58 percent of Asian, Black and Latinx employees who are on guard report they are also more likely to have sleep problems.  This loss of sleep also jeopardizes employees’ productivity and ability to fully contribute at work.  In addition, being on guard factors into their career decision-making, with 38 percent reporting they are more likely to frequently consider leaving their jobs.

On Guard – When feeling on guard, women of colour feel they have to outwork and outperform their colleagues. Asian women (51 percent), Black women (58 percent), Latinas (56 percent) and multiracial women (52 percent) all report being highly on guard. Over 40 percent of Asian, Black, Latinx and multiracial employees feel on guard because they anticipate racial/ethnic bias.

Multiracial women (58 percent), who identify as two or more of Asian, Black and Latina, are the most likely to be on guard due to their race/ethnicity. Highly Motivated Top Talent—Despite being on guard, nearly 90 percent of women of colour want to be influential leaders, have challenging and intellectually stimulating work, obtain high ranking positions and stay at the same company. Asian, Black and Latinx employees who are highly on guard also report higher creativity (81 percent) and are more likely to speak up (79 percent)—demonstrating the benefit to companies of attracting and retaining top talent from all backgrounds.

In addition to examining women of colour, the report’s data reveal the Emotional Tax experiences of men of colour in US workplaces: over one-quarter of Asian, Black, Latinx and multiracial men who are on guard anticipate bias because of their gender, and, in general, far more experience Emotional Tax.

Through its Engaging Men efforts and Men Advocating Real Change community, Catalyst believes men of colour may also be penalized for demonstrating “masculine behaviours” such as being assertive – even though they are well-positioned to be allies for gender equality – while White men often are rewarded for exhibiting the same mannerisms.

“Women and men of colour have unique talents and valuable creativity that adds up to a highly motivated and talented group of employees. Your employees should not only be fully leveraged to help address the country’s limited pool of talent, but they also bring a wealth of benefits and a competitive edge to companies,” says Deborah Gillis, President and CEO, Catalyst. “In times of talent and skill scarcity, companies must focus inward on employee retention and create inclusive workplaces; otherwise, every business becomes vulnerable to a major talent drain.”

The Day-to-Day Experiences of Emotional Tax Among Women and Men of Colour in the Workplace findings are based on a survey of nearly 1,600 professionals working in corporate and non-corporate organizations—including non-profits, educational institutions or government entities—in the United States at the time of data collection.