When the workplace is hard on everyone, why is my research focused on Black womxn? The short answer is that you always build what you didn’t have, but the long answer involves microaggressions and heightened scrutiny. Let’s dig in.
Scrutiny of Black womxn
The truth of the matter is that, even in a workplace that focuses on anti-bias training and cultural sensitivity awareness, Black womxn are examined intently and consistently for things that have nothing at all to do with their job performance. Standards of professionalism are usually anti-black and are often used against Black womxn. Dress codes frequently discriminate against natural hairstyles, and business dress “norms” are measured against a slim, white image. Even for those in leadership roles, the resulting stress from these transgressions and others around ability and trust undermines their ability to thrive at work.
When I ask womxn what it means to thrive at work, many of them respond to the idea with bright eyes and imagination. Thinking about what their organizations could do to help them thrive and then acting on it is a key part of inclusion and equity work that has yet to be fully asked and explored. Now, we are asking for their input specifically about Black Womxn.
Black Womxn, especially, bear the brunt of an inequitable system because they sit at the intersection of racism and sexism which impacts their success in the workplace. They deserve to do more than survive in their workplace, they should thrive.
Intersections for Inclusion
We are in a critical moment where historical patterns are being pushed and questioned—in the workplace and in society at large. Not only are Black womxn positioned at the center of possible change with commitments to Black Lives Matter work, but they also reflect the ways that organizations typically fail at multilayered inclusion that suggests that we need to consider multiple aspects of one’s identity and create solutions for all of them. For example, gender-fluid, LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the workplace still has a white lens as do the bulk of non-race-related inclusion efforts like sexism and ableism.
We need to press for ways for organizations to incorporate multiple identities into their inclusion efforts at once—two-spirit Indigenous or Black and queer, for example. Not one identity or the other, but both/and at the same time. It is really is the only way forward.
Thriving Instead of Surviving
With the Black Womxn Thriving research, we hope to identify the factors that make it possible for Black womxn to thrive at work, and when I talk to Black womxn about the project their enthusiasm is obvious. Black womxn want to go to work and be fully seen. They want to know their work is valued.
Thriving in the workplace isn’t solely defined by doing well at the technical aspects of the job.
An environment where Black womxn across the gender spectrum can thrive is one where teams can have real conversations about microaggressions that aren’t met with entrenched defensiveness. They are workplaces where those conversations can be a point of change and growth for the whole organization.
Black womxn working in these spaces know they can go to work and bring their full selves every day. That knowledge—that they are valued for who they are, that their work is recognized—creates a different energy around work.
Black womxn deserve to experience it—and expect it—anywhere they work.