Microaggressions Make Work from Home Safer for Black Parents

Amidst the pandemic, Black parents experienced relief as they discovered that working from home provides a safer environment, free from microaggressions that they typically encounter in the workplace, making work from home more comfortable for Black parents.

A year into his career as a digital developer for an automation startup, Ernest Provo has already encountered racial microaggressions on the job.

In an interview, Provo said his European-based organization was quite clear that “if you do not fit the pattern of what we perceive to be our home office ethnic and cultural background, there are certain roles you just will never be genuinely examined for.”

Despite declining COVID infection rates, remote employment is here to stay. It has boosted team morale, reduced commuting time and costs, and allowed parents to spend more time with their kids.

It’s been a means for Black parents to avoid microaggressions at work by being able to work from home. Those Black parents who are sick and tired of racism will welcome this as a beginning rather than an end.

According to research conducted by The Conference Board, hybrid work arrangements are permitted by 90% of organizations, while 60% now offer full remote work options. But, several sectors have already implemented policies that would force workers to return to the office.

A member of this group is Provo.

Less than five months ago, Provo and his wife had their second child. The flexibility of working from home has allowed him to set up an office with his 7-year-old daughter, where he can assist her with her studies during the day so that they can spend their evenings together.

This month, though, he had to return to work because of the firm, so he has less time to spend with his daughter. In addition to expecting him to assimilate culturally, many of his employees have blind spots when it comes to the challenges of being a Black guy in his profession.

Provo claims that the corporation provides perks, such as a car, to employees who rise to a specific level within the organization. You can use a shiny new car as a personal mode of transportation, but “if you are a person of color, you understand that the perception of somebody driving a car that is worth $80,000, $100,000, or more and is a fairly young-looking person draws a lot of attention from people who work in law enforcement,” he says.

To help organizations better accommodate parents and carers, Leslie Forde creates policies, practices, and benefit systems. She started a company called Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs to help moms improve their mental and physical health while dealing with the stresses of motherhood.

According to Forde, avoiding microaggressions is impossible.

“We are often witnesses to microaggressions as they unfold right before our eyes or ears. Nevertheless, it’s often the things that are said about you while you’re not there that stick with you. If your bosses are having conversations regarding your future without you being present, this could be a problem,” Forde claims. “No one should take away from this conversation the idea that a Black professional can simply shut themselves off from the world. Leaving the office won’t protect you from microaggressions.”

Because of their distinct perspectives as women, people of color, and leaders, Provo thinks promoting Black women to executive positions in large and medium-cap corporations can help reduce microaggressions in the workplace.

Well-intentioned though it may be, Black women have for too long had to take the lion’s share of professional animosity. For example, Mobilization for Justice’s managing attorney for housing policy, Leah Goodridge, recently tweeted a now-viral series about how quickly Black women can move from being a role model to a public enemies. She has also written an article discussing the racialized nature of professionalism. Goodridge recounts having to explain herself after a white guy coworker in a higher position than her publicly called her out by name. The issue was still classified as a “personality conflict” at the time.

“It is not a surprise that Black people wanting respect in the workplace are often attacked as excessive or unreasonable when historically, enslaved Black people desiring freedom were physically classified as mentally sick, irrational and suffering from ‘drapetomania,'” Goodridge tweeted.

However, microaggressions can still have a negative impact on mental health, even when there are more Black women in positions of leadership.

Thriveworks’ Regional Clinic Director and licensed therapist, Shontel Cargill, stresses the need to put one’s mental health first, even when the trauma seems trivial.

“Truly and honestly, that tiny element does not necessarily mean that there aren’t major consequences of the general decrease in health over time,” Cargill adds. “And when they aren’t addressed in the workplace, sadly, it does lead to a really toxic work culture that undermines not just the employee’s overall health but also their job satisfaction, productivity, sense of safety in the space, and in some circumstances, liability.”

Xavier Johnson is expecting her second kid; she already has a 6-year-old son. She sought counseling after being harassed at work by her Black boss, which led to her abandoning her position there.

Johnson claims that since starting her internship, where she does most of her work from home, her mental health has greatly improved. She likes the unpredictability of coordinating with her team primarily through digital means.

“My squad probably doesn’t even realize that I’m Black. There is no longer the nagging doubt as to whether or not people are making snap judgments about me based on my appearance. They haven’t truly heard my voice because I probably haven’t spoken to half of them. Because they can’t see me, I feel that a potential barrier to these kinds of slights has been removed.”

But unlike Johnson, nearly half of the Black labor force is employed in fields where telecommuting is not a possibility.

Black employees have had it rough for decades with wage inequality, microaggressions, and hostile work situations. About half of Black workers in the United States, according to data from McKinsey & Company, are in the healthcare, retail, or lodging and food service industries, where many earn less than $30,000. As a counterpoint, “Black people are underrepresented in businesses like information technology, professional services, and financial services,” which are known for having greater pay and job growth.

While working from home can be a great way to avoid an unpleasant coworker or take a mental break, Cargill warns that at-home workers face a very real risk from proximity bias.

“You may observe the nepotism and favoritism shown to in-office workers at the expense of remote workers. Because there are people of color who want to work from home for a variety of reasons, including because they feel safer there, this is an example of institutional racism,” said Cargill. “By avoiding these hazardous workplaces, they are able to balance their professional and personal lives better. You’ll notice a rise in the number of people who aren’t given opportunities for advancement.”

Forde believes there are practical strategies she urges workplace leaders to follow in order to erase microaggressions at work and not leave Black workers blindsided, despite the fact that addressing the wage gap may be a bit more complex.

Most of the people at the top of companies share similar upbringings. The three share common ground in having attended the same business schools, having shared a common language, and having summered in the same location. Uncertain leadership is harmful to the professional success of people of color, particularly Black people and other people of color.

There should be a strong emphasis on creating a fair and healthy workplace for all employees, but especially Black parents, as a mandatory return to work becomes the norm.

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