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How To Support Women From Marginalized and Racialized Groups In The Workplace
What workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion really means with expert insight from a registered practitioner
Adapted from an article by: Mackenzie Patterson
It’s time for us all to recognize the systemic barriers standing in the way. To do so, we first need to understand what those disadvantages are and how they show up daily. Only with a firm understanding of the barriers can we all work towards significant change.
Registered Clinical Counselor Tricia-Kay Williams owns Metamorphose Counseling, a private practice specializing in counseling individuals, couples, and families. She also happens to be a woman of colour on the Inkblot platform. When it comes to the disadvantages women from marginalized and racialized groups face in the workplace, she says that it can be more challenging to ensure their voices are heard due to the internalized biases many of their colleagues hold.
“For many” she says, “their input may be overlooked.”
It’s complex, but Williams explains that the problem is linked to the systemic issues of gender bias and racism in our society. “For example, if you’re in a meeting and you’re not being called upon or something you say is dismissed…We know women are overlooked in the workplace, and male voices are generally celebrated and heard in most spaces. But add the racial component to it, and if you’re looking at a ladder, women of colour are diminished to an even lower rung,” Williams further explained.
The stats also showcase the difference in experience. For example:
- Women from marginalized and racialized groups represented only four per cent of C-suite leaders in corporate America, According to McKinsey & Company’s 2021 Women in the Workplace report,
- Another survey conducted in 2021 by Randstad Canada in 2021 found that 63 per cent of women had been told that they had the same opportunities as men but did not believe this was the case, in reality
- The Randstad survey also found that 66 per cent of women had witnessed or been personally affected by bias in the form of microaggressions, lack of flexibility, fewer opportunities and less equal pay at work
- It also found that 46 per cent of women from marginalized and racialized groups felt their salary was disproportionate to others with similar responsibilities
- And finally, 46 per cent of women found they were being passed over for promotions, while 63 per cent of women from marginalized and racialized groups felt the same
The impact of microaggressions in the workplace
Internalized bias and systemic racism often find themselves manifested in the workplace through what is known as microaggressions: the subtle comments, questions or actions that reveal an attitude of bias or discrimination against people from marginalized and racialized groups . Although perhaps not as overt as a racist slur or a physical attack, Williams explains that these microaggressions can be equally harmful.
“A microaggression is a covert way of making someone feel discriminated against or marginalized. An example of a microaggression could be that maybe you did a presentation, for example, and someone will walk up to you and say, ‘oh wow, that was actually amazing,’ sounding very surprised,” Williams says.
“So, a microaggression can feel very ingenuine, or it could even come across as rude.”
This is merely one example of the type of microaggressions experienced every day. Though people may mistakenly believe microaggressions to be harmless or insignificant, these subtle interactions have the potential to cause serious psychological harm.
For example, a review of 138 articles exploring racial microaggressions conducted in 2021 found that the experiencing of microaggressions can lead to stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, or even suicidal thoughts for people from marginalized and racialized groups. There is also the potential link to physical symptoms like stomach aches and high blood pressure, and an increased risk of alcohol and/or tobacco use.
Ultimately, the experiencing of microaggressions can result in feeling less safe at work, which can then lead to an inability to meet one’s full potential or even higher turnover rates.
How to eliminate microaggressions in the workplace
The first step to eliminating microaggressions in the workplace is recognizing and identifying them. Williams says that, in many cases, microaggressions result from internalized biases that people may not realize they’ve been harbouring in the first place. This makes education an essential piece of the puzzle, too.
Williams suggests beginning by exploring resources like Lean In’s 50 Ways to Fight Bias, a digital program that aims to help people combat the biases women face in the workplace. Another great resource is Allyship at Work.
In addition to education and training resources, it’s also important to encourage people at work to stay open and listen to voices from diverse backgrounds, says Williams. Inviting everyone to weigh in on the discussion and remaining intentional will help lead to positive outcomes in the future.
“If people are able to feel a sense of safety at work, then they’ll be more likely to be open to sharing,” Williams says. “It’s about creating an atmosphere where people are willing to speak out when something isn’t right and advocate for one another.”
Workplace Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: What it really means
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has become one of today’s biggest buzzwords. But DEI is simply all about humanizing people, says Williams. “It’s the idea that everybody is a human being deserving of care and respect, despite where they come from, who they choose to love or what they look like,” she adds.
While often lumped together as a combined entity, it’s important to remember that each of the three components of DEI have a distinct meaning. Williams offered the following breakdown of each of the three pillars, and why each is crucial to the conversation:
Williams explains that bringing together different backgrounds, voices, and perspectives helps businesses generate new ideas and ultimately thrive. She notes that in recent years, many organizations have stepped up to do their research, listen to their employee base, and recognize that focusing on diversity will enrich their business.
Williams emphasized the importance of distinguishing between equity and equality. Though these are often used interchangeably they actually have quite different meanings. Equality refers to the concept of allocating the same number of resources to people of all genders, cultures, and sexual identities. Equity, however, means recognizing the differences between us all so we can allocate resources in a way that takes those inherent inequalities into account.
Although it’s a different concept altogether, a focus on inclusion also has the power to help businesses thrive. From Williams’s perspective, inclusion is about representation, which means a company’s employee base and branding materials should essentially reflect the races, cultures and other identifiers that make up our broader society.
Putting it into practice
Once we’ve recognized the realities and barriers that exist in the workplace, how do we do better to support women from marginalized and racialized groups– or anyone else who may feel underrepresented or discriminated against?
Having the ability to self-reflect, see beyond our personal paradigms, and think critically about where the power lies within our societal structures is a great place to start. From that place of awareness, we’ll be better equipped to act and speak up when we recognize something isn’t right.
GreenShield Cares about mental health is also available, to help remove the barriers women face in accessing the therapy they may require in these difficult situations, including not knowing how to find a therapist or long wait times due to mental health treatment gaps.
This article contains guidelines or advice not intended to self-diagnose or treat. No content should be used as a substitute for direct advice from a qualified professional such as your doctor or mental health professional. Please reach out for support from a certified professional related to the symptoms you may be experiencing.
If you are in crisis and require immediate support, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. Alternatively, please contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1 833 456-4566 (en tout temps). 1-833-456-4566 (24/7). For residents of Québec, call1 866 APPELLE (1 866 277-3553).