As employers prepare their employees to return to an in-person work setting, Black women and women of color are rightfully cautious about reentering toxic workspaces. With the opportunity to work in-person and opt-out of the repetitive Zoom calls, along comes the micro-aggressions that many of us were able to escape while working from home.
In a recent article by The New York Times, Courtney McCluney, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Cornell’s ILR school, opened up about her hesitancy to leave the virtual workplace due to frequent micro-aggressions.
“This was the first year that I haven’t had my hair commented on and touched without permission in my professional life,” the professor said. “I actually like not having to go into the office and be constantly reminded that I’m the only Black woman there.”
While simultaneously not looking forward to in-person work, Black women also have to deal with the transition to normalcy in their home lives. Whether it revolves around finding proper child care or experiencing anxiety upon a post-pandemic workplace, there’s inadequate resources for Black women to completely benefit from being back in the office. According to a study by Slack’s Future Forum, 97% of Black professionals prefer to continue working remotely or are interested in a hybrid work arrangement. On the other hand, 21% of white workers want to return to the office full-time.
Being free from the labels of being “aggressive” or “unfriendly” to not receiving inappropriate remarks related to one’s ethnicity is just a speck of the experiences that can be avoided entirely while working virtually. Although the process of adapting to a remote work environment had its own problems, the virtual setting eliminated the worry of frequent code switching and hearing comments related to appearance. The metaphorical fortress that Black women were placed in while not working in-person allowed them to not be forced to conform to professional ideologies due to the way we wear our hair, experience work-related burnout or other incivilities.
To comfort Black women and create a safe space, companies/human resources should actively be developing a better plan to support their non-white employees prior to the return to office. Condemning staff for racist tendencies and introducing wellness checks for their faculty is a small start that an employer can do in dismantling toxic workplace culture. After an emotionally tolling 15 months, the last thing that Black women should have to be anxious about is their workplace environment.