The research shows that Black, Indigenous and women of colour are discriminated against in STEM and business fields, whether in the workplace or academic institutions. We deserve to feel a sense of belonging in the places where we go to work and school. So, why don’t we foster our power by creating safe spaces for ourselves through community? In the meantime, allies need to continuously work to create a sense of belonging with and for Black, Indigenous, and women of colour in workplaces and schools.
During the summer of 2021, I started a Research internship with Accelerate Her Future (AHF) through Riipen’s LevelUp program. During this internship, I conducted a literature review with another Intern to examine the workplace experiences of Black, Indigenous and women of colour. As you can probably imagine, the results of the research study were disheartening and, quite frankly, enraging. We experience barriers due to our race/ethnic and gender identity, which leads to heightened stress levels and that further leads to an increased risk of numerous negative health outcomes.
It’s important to note that our experiences as Black, Indigenous and women of colour aren’t monolithic. There are differences in experiences for different racial/ethnic groups, and further, there are differences that occur as marginalized identities intertwine (e.g. religion, sexuality, etc.). Essentially, these barriers are experienced differently by those of different marginalized identities.
But, I don’t want this blog post to dwell on the negative. As Black, Indigenous and women of colour (as well as others who may be reading this), I want us to feel a sense of comfort and inspiration. So, despite my research findings, I concluded that we are not alone in our experiences. But what does this mean exactly?
Sometimes it can feel as though we have no one to turn to with the negative experiences we’re facing, especially when we’re one of the few Black, Indigenous or women of colour occupying a particular space. Various research studies report immense differences in representation between Black, Indigenous and/or women of colour and white men in STEM and business fields, especially at senior levels. These low participation rates are due to systemic exclusion, which contributes to feelings of isolation. For instance, one of the findings from my research indicated that the low levels of Indigenous participation at senior levels cause Indigenous peoples to feel isolated in the workplace because they lack role models (Thorpe-Moscon & Ohm, 2021).
My research findings also show that women of colour experience verbal harassment, microaggressions, stereotypes, and more, leading to a low sense of belonging in the workplace (Alfred, Ray & Johnson, 2018; Clancy, Lee, Rodgers & Richey, 2017; The Canadian Press, 2020, as cited in Deschamps, 2020). It’s also important to note that the workplace experiences of Black, Indigenous and women of colour tend to mirror their experiences in postsecondary institutions. These experiences are especially tough to deal with when we are told that we are overreacting or misinterpreting situations, basically being gaslighted into thinking that we’re the problem.
Can you relate? If so, I assure you that you are not imagining these experiences and your feelings matter. I read about the perception gap in The Canadian Press’ report Inequality in capital markets sector continues to hurt women, BIPOC and LGBTQ: report. Essentially, the perception gap describes the differences in views between two groups.
In relation to workplace experiences, the perception gap can describe the differences in the views of workplace discrimination between men and women. A research study conducted by Women in Capital Markets highlighted the perception of workplace experiences between women and men. While 60% of men respondents believed that their workplace was free from gender bias, the majority of women respondents did not (The Canadian Press, 2020, as cited in Deschamps, 2020). This study showed that not only do men often have better workplace experiences than women, but they are also often not aware of the negative experiences that women, and especially Black, Indigenous and women of colour, face.
In the past, I have talked to people about some of my experiences in business school, and I came to realize that not everyone understands my experiences or even sees them as negative experiences. My research was validating because I was able to see how some of my findings were wildly similar to experiences I’ve had while attending business school. It helped me to also realize that some negative experiences I had in school weren’t my fault, helping me to become more perceptive to exclusionary behaviours or biases that I faced from peers and professors.
I often felt that maybe some of these experiences happened to me because I’m incompetent and don’t have the abilities to succeed, but since there are numerous others who have very similar lived experiences, there’s no way this is true. This points to the importance of educating ourselves about discrimination, biases and racism.
Educating ourselves will help us become more perceptive when experiencing discrimination, so that we can stop internalizing our negative experiences. Also, educating ourselves can help us disrupt biases that come our way.
Implementing solutions to any form of exclusionary behaviour can be mentally and emotionally taxing; having access to a safe and trusted community of people will allow you to discuss how experiencing biases has affected you can greatly lighten the burden of your situation. Also, this community could provide insight into your own biases that you were unaware of.
Another benefit of educating ourselves is that it will give us the ability to start claiming our power, gifts, talents and strengths. Claiming our power, gifts, and so on, can also be done by recognizing and celebrating our accomplishments whether big or small, accessing mentorship, taking on opportunities that will allow us to use our talents, gifts and strengths and help us grow personally and professionally, taking up more space, using our voice and engaging in self-care.
My research has helped me gain more confidence in my abilities, talents, voice, and leadership. My research has also helped me realize that I was internalizing these negative experiences, which led to low self-confidence.
As Black, Indigenous and women of colour, we can foster our agency and power by forming our communities or finding communities of Black, Indigenous and/or women of colour who have similar lived experiences. We can discuss our experiences, share how we cope and find solutions to the problems we face in STEM and business fields.
Through my research, I realized that having access to a safe community is essential as these negative experiences can impact us in numerous ways. For instance, a research study found that 54% of Black respondents felt on guard due to gender and racial discrimination in the workplace (Travis, Thorpe-Moscon & McCluney, 2016). Experiencing discrimination or even the fear of being discriminated against can have adverse impacts on our mental and physical health, such as sleep problems (Travis, Thorpe-Moscon & McCluney, 2016), hypertension (Mouzon, Taylor, Woodward & Chatters, 2016), obesity (Petersen, Pan, & Blanck, 2019), and also lead to emotional tax (Travis & Thorpe-Moscon, 2019).
“Emotional Tax is 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.”
(Travis & Thorpe-Moscon, 2019)
Finding or forming a community is one way that we can help ourselves and others cope and find actionable solutions to the effects of our negative experiences. While we need to be able to access safe spaces, we also need to feel a sense of belonging in our workplaces. This is where active allyship is critical.
Actions You Can Take to Foster Inclusion & Belonging as Allies
Listen to Black, Indigenous and women of colour and ask them questions about their postsecondary or workplace experiences. But also keep in mind that there are those who will not want to share their experiences due to emotional tax, which is why it’s important to educate yourself, create safe spaces and build trust. Read reports and studies on the barriers that Black, Indigenous and women of colour face in academic institutions and workplaces and books by Black, Indigenous and women of colour authors to better understand their experiences.
If you’re a Black, Indigenous or woman of colour, you can also listen to other Black, Indigenous and women of colour to gain a deeper understanding of issues that people of marginalized identities face that are different than your own.
Listening will allow you to gain insights into their experiences and formulate solutions to better these experiences. But, for Black, Indigenous or women of colour to even talk about our experiences, we need to trust you first.
2. Build trust!
You need to understand that building trust takes time and a continuous action-oriented commitment to allyship. Essentially, stating that you’re an ally is not enough. Allyship means showing that you are an ally each and every day. Some behaviours you can perform on a daily basis include speaking up when witnessing the unfair treatment of Black, Indigenous or women of colour by amplifying their voices and abilities. Ensure that their ideas aren’t shut down or ignored, ensure that they get credit and acknowledgement for their work, and involve them in projects and opportunities that will help develop and grow their skills and advance their careers. These suggestions apply to both students and the workplace.
3. Take action!
No matter your role or level within your organization, there are multiple ways for you to take action. Whether that is advocating for more Black, Indigenous or women of colour to be promoted to managers or suggested for high visibility projects, promoting diversity, equity and inclusion programming, or speaking up when you witness exclusionary behaviour or bias. No matter how small you may think the action to be, it’ll contribute to fostering an inclusive work environment for Black, Indigenous and women of colour.
A research study conducted by McKinsey and LeanIn Org shows that white-identifying employees are often not perceptive of the allyship actions that women of colour value the most. Women of colour highly value allies advocating for new opportunities, speaking out against discrimination, crediting women of colour for their work and ideas publicly, educating themselves on women of colour’s experiences, and offering mentorship or sponsorship (McKinsey & Company, 2021). So if you aspire to be a true ally, demonstrate it through these actions, and do them continuously.
These are just a few ways that you can ensure all women have safe work and school environments.
The main takeaway that I want other Black, Indigenous and women of colour to leave this blog post with is that you are not alone. We can foster our power and agency by offering support and being active allies to each other. If you feel that you can’t turn to anyone around you, turn to safe communities in your local area — clubs at school, employee resource groups or communities like AHF — where women can relate to you!
Alfred, M., Ray, S. & Johnson, M. (2018). Advancing women on color in STEM: An imperative for US global competitiveness. Advancing in Developing Human Resources, 21(1), 114-132. DOI: 10.1177/1523422318814551
Clancy, K., Lee, K., Rodgers, E. & Rickey, C. (2017). Double jeopardy in astronomy and planetary science: Women of color face greater risks of gendered and racial harrassment. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 122(7), 1610-1623. DOI: 10.1002/2017je005256
Deschamps, T. (2020). Inequality in capital markets sector continues to hurt women, BIPOC and LGBTQ: report. https://www.ctvnews.ca/business/inequality-in-capital-markets-sector-continues-to-hurt-women-bipoc-and-lgbtq-report-1.5164789
McKinsey and Company. (2021). Women in the Workplace 2021. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/women-in-the-workplace
Mouzon, D., Taylor, R., Woodward, A., & Chatters, L. (2016). Everyday racial discriminatiom, everyday non-racial discrimination and physical health among African-Americans. Journal of Ethnic & Cultrual Diversity in Social Work, 26(1-2), 68-80. DOI: 10.1080/15313204.2016.1187103
Peterson, R., Pan, L. & Blanck, H. (2019). Racial and ethnic disparties in adult obesity in the United States: CDC’s tracking to inform state and local action. Preventing Chronic Disease, 16. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd16.180579
Thorpe-Moscon, J., Pollack, A. & Olu-Lafe, O. (2019). Empowering Workplaces Combat Emotional Tax for People of Colour in Canada. https://www.catalyst.org/research/emotional-tax-canada/
Thorpe-Moscon J. & Ohm, J. (2021). Building inclusion for Indigenous peoples in Canadian workplaces. https://www.catalyst.org/research/inclusion-indigenous-peoples-canada-workplace/
Travis, D., Thorpe-Moscon J. & McCluney, C. (2016). Emotional tax: how Black women and men pay more at work and how leaders can take action (report). https://www.catalyst.org/research/emotional-tax-how-black-women-and-men-pay-more-at-work-and-how-leaders-can-take-action/