Fifty-eight percent of the more than 1,500 survey respondents reported enduring an emotional tax and feeling “on guard” at work
Uncle Sam isn’t the only one taking from these workers.
A majority of people of color pay an “emotional tax” in the workplace, a recent Catalyst report says, and report sleep problems and greater intent to leave their jobs. The researchers define emotional tax as “the combination of feeling different from peers at work because of gender, race, and/or ethnicity and the associated effects on health, well-being, and ability to thrive at work.”
“Women of color 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,” Catalyst vice president of research Dnika J. Travis said in a statement. “Over time, these daily battles take a heavy toll on women of color, creating a damaging link between their health and the workplace.”
Also read: How do you deal with bigotry from a boss?
Fifty-eight percent of the more than 1,500 black, Latino, Asian and multiracial survey respondents reported enduring this emotional tax and feeling “on guard” against gender and/or racial bias at work. The same percentage of black women said they were highly on guard, as did 56% of Latinas, 52% of multiracial women and 51% of Asian women. Sixty-four percent of black men, six in 10 Latinos, 54% of multiracial men and 51% of Asian men also reported being on guard.
“Being the only one of a different culture in my workplace, I’m constantly on guard. Particularly when racist jokes come up or talk about the presidential election (happens), I’m always on guard,” a first-level Latina manager identified as Sandra, 26, told the researchers. “Therefore … I have to take a breather outside, take a break, or just mentally take myself out of the situation and think positive things about my family, my kids, and ignore what I (cannot) change.”
A 27-year-old Asian woman business owner named Ying, meanwhile, recounted her experience completing a writing task about defensive driving. “Although I like the subject, I felt very on guard when it was read aloud to me, as well as everyone else, in our meeting,” she said. “I braced myself for the inevitable ‘Asian/woman driver’ jokes. When they did come, I coped with it by smiling and shrugging it off so as not to cause tension.”
Feeling “on guard” appears to have tangible consequences: Among those reporting higher levels of guardedness, 38% thought “frequently” or “all the time” about quitting — compared to 11% experiencing lower rates of being on guard. It even kept people up at night, with 58% of the former group reporting sleep problems in contrast to 12% of the latter.
But almost nine in 10 of those burdened by the tax seek to achieve high-ranking positions, engage in challenging and intellectually stimulating work, and become influential leaders, the report found. (Many also want to be altruistic, be good parents and achieve financial stability.)
Leaders, the authors advised, should conduct conversations or focus groups with other workers, identify common threads that seem to help or hurt the issue, and consider letting employees “own” diversity initiatives a la “inclusion ambassadors.” Inclusion, or feeling like you belong and are valued for your individuality, is also key: For emotional taxpayers, inclusion was linked to greater creativity, higher rates of speaking up and a slight drop in intent to quit.
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