Underrepresented employees pay a high emotional tax at work, and LGBTQ and trans employees cough up the highest premium.
New research from Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on advancing women in the workplace, finds that underrepresented employees are more likely to feel like they’re always “on guard” at work—and it’s a global problem that HR leaders must contend with as companies become more geographically dispersed.
Sheila Brassel, director of research at Catalyst and one of the report’s authors, defines being on guard as the need to brace oneself against potential bias from colleagues, noting that it hurts employee well-being and their ability to thrive in the office.
Despite growing commitments to support non-majority communities, 61% of surveyed workers from Australia, Brazil, Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. say they often feel on guard, according to Catalyst’s survey of over 3,000 global professionals.
“People can fall into the trap that racism is something that happens somewhere else. But the data show us that around the globe, the majority of employees from marginalized racial and ethnic groups are under a near-constant threat of bias,” says Brassel.
LGBTQ employees report being on guard at much higher rates than their marginalized heterosexual peers. Eighty-five percent of trans and nonbinary employees report being on guard at work compared to 74% for all LGBTQ workers. The figure is higher for trans and nonbinary employees from racially and ethnically underrepresented backgrounds. Brassel says these findings underscore the need for leaders to recognize intersectionality in representation.
“When we see how LGBTQ employees of marginalized ethnic groups are facing racism, heterosexism, and other forms of discrimination, we know that there’s a potential for harm,” she says. “It’s so important for inclusion efforts to take an intersectional lens and embrace that degree of nuance. There are similarities in these experiences, but there are also very important differences.”
Building psychological safety and increasing racial and ethnic diversity are the most effective ways to decrease the emotional tax. Catalyst’s research finds that employees from marginalized groups are less likely to be on guard when teams are diverse.
Fostering psychological safety, Brassel says, requires that leaders authentically communicate with their team and share their growth, learnings, and expectation that employees model similar behavior.
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“Accountability” is the word du jour this week. Mark Zuckerberg is the latest founder to admit failing to read the writing on the wall, which led to mass layoffs. Here’s what he told employees yesterday:
“At the start of COVID, the world rapidly moved online and the surge of e-commerce led to outsized revenue growth. Many people predicted this would be a permanent acceleration that would continue even after the pandemic ended. I did too, so I made the decision to significantly increase our investments. Unfortunately, this did not play out the way I expected.”
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