The work of code-switching falls on white managers now

March 24, 2021, 5:35 PM UTC
The work of code-switching may fall more on managers, now.
Lyndon Stratford via Getty Images

Welcome to Worksheet, a newsletter about how people are working smarter in these turbulent times.

Every week, this newsletter will share analysis on the state of work by S. Mitra Kalita, a veteran media executive, author, and journalist.

In this week’s edition, Kalita suggests white managers now have the responsibility of taking on the work of code-switching.

A certain diversity memo is clearly making the rounds: Read books on anti-racism, hire more Black people, check in on your staffers of color. 

But then what? 

Much of the advice in business columns is geared toward white managers trying to make a change, in their companies, hopefully themselves. There’s less focus on the receiving end of their overtures. 

So this one’s for us. 

People of color are exhausted, alienated—and uncertain about what’s ahead. Surveys show that attitudes about the post-pandemic workplace vary by race; about half of Black knowledge workers say they are “treated fairly at work,” compared to three-quarters of white workers. Of those working remotely, 97% of Black workers want a hybrid or full-time remote working model, compared to 79% of whites. Workplace experts explain that telecommuting reduces the need for “code switching.” Harvard Business Review defines the practice as “adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities.”

That we are seeing less of it, even if it took a pandemic, is a silver lining. 

White managers are not the only ones who must make behavioral changes right now. The data on code-switching underscore a positive development and could be a baby step in shifting power dynamics: The embrace of ourselves, our full selves, at work. 

And so when a colleague tries to engage you on issues of race, you have more power than you might think. Out: You being asked to “help” on a job search to ensure it’s a diverse pool. In: You asking what conditions have been set up to optimize for a candidate’s success.  

Kalita goes on to write about how managers do more than just pay lip service to DEI, but create an environment where every employee can thrive.

Read her full column here.

Wondering what else the future of work holds? Visit Fortune‘s Smarter Working hub presented by Future Forum by Slack.

This week's reads

Rebuild, reconnect

A year of working from home has changed our relationships. How to fix them. (Harvard Business Review)

Pay day

The gender pay gap will likely shrink in 2022. Here's why that's bad news. (Fortune)

Look me in the eye

In a new pandemic-era book, Sherry Turkle says screens have made things worse. (Fast Company)

Uneven recovery

Some Latino small businesses are looking toward recovery, while others are just trying to hang on. (Minnesota Public Radio)

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