Study highlights discrimination's impact on wellbeing

A majority of women identifying with Asian, Black, Latin American and multiracial backgrounds experience an "emotional tax" in the workplace, a new report finds.

The US survey of 1,600 male and female professionals carried out by Catalyst, a global non-profit consultancy, looked into the day-to-day life of people of colour in the workplace.It found women describing an emotional tax at work: a feeling of being constantly on guard against potential bias or discrimination because of their gender, race and/or ethnicity. Asian women (51%), Black women (58%), Latin American (56%) and multiracial women (52%) all report being highly on guard. 

Linking well-being and inclusion

The study, Day-to-Day Experiences of Emotional Tax Among Women and Men of Colour in the Workplace, observed a wider impact of this psychological burden on women’s overall health, well-being and ability to thrive. Exclusionary behaviours affect overall health and well-being. Over half (58%) of women who report being on guard also say they have sleep problems. This jeopardises their productivity and ability to fully contribute at work, despite feeling they have to work harder and continually outperform their colleagues. 
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The impact of the emotional tax on long-term prospects

Nearly 90% of women of colour want to be influential leaders, have challenging and intellectually stimulating work, obtain high ranking positions and stay at the same company.Yet for career choices – potentially including international assignments and promotions – the state of feeling on guard also factors into individuals' decision-making and could have incremental impacts on opportunities. Four in ten (38%) women report they are more likely frequently to consider leaving their jobs.Further suggesting the productivity gains to be achieved by harnessing inclusiveness more effectively, Asian, Black and Latin American employees who are highly on guard also report higher creativity (81%) and are more likely to speak up (79%).

Companies urged to take action

Dr Dnika J Travis, vice president of research at Catalyst, commented: “Women of colour continue to deal with some of the workplace’s most entrenched hurdles such as pay inequities and near invisibility in top leadership roles, as well as daunting roadblocks that stifle the meaningful dialogue that would help make real progress. “Over time, these daily battles take a heavy toll on women of colour, creating a damaging link between their health and the workplace. And because of consequences associated with emotional tax, companies must begin to take intentional action to avoid possible harm to their businesses and employees’ health and well-being.”

The emotional tax and its impact on men

In addition to reporting on the experiences of women of colour, the analysis from Catalyst also reveals the impact of the emotional tax on men of colour in US workplaces. More than a quarter of Asian, Black, Latin American and multiracial men who are on guard anticipate bias because of their gender, and, in general, far more experience an emotional tax.Additional Catalyst evidence also suggests men of colour may also be penalised for demonstrating “masculine behaviours” such as being assertive while white men often are rewarded for exhibiting the same mannerisms.

Encompassing all talents

“Women and men of colour have unique talents and valuable creativity that adds up to a highly motivated and talented group of employees,” said Deborah Gillis, president and CEO of Catalyst, reaffirming the business case for inclusive workplaces.“Your employees should not only be fully leveraged to help address the country’s limited pool of talent, but they also bring a wealth of benefits and a competitive edge to companies.“In times of talent and skill scarcity, companies must focus inward on employee retention and create inclusive workplaces; otherwise, every business becomes vulnerable to a major talent drain.”
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