The time immediately following a crisis creates a window of opportunity to reimagine what the…
The Old Work Model Didn’t Cut It – Let’s Build Something Better
Over two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, offices across the country are at an inflection point—it’s clear that there’s no going back to a traditional 9 – 5 model, but what should replace it? Economic concerns and money stresses are top-of-mind for many of us, but the pandemic also clarified what really matters in life—and long commutes to hostile workplaces didn’t make the list. In fact, more than 3 in 4 women polled by Gender on the Ballot earlier this year said that workplace models with limited flexibility are outdated and need to change.
Many of the challenges of returning to the office are compounded for women of color. As an expert on diversity, leadership, and advancing women of color, it’s unfortunately no surprise to me that a May 2022 Harvard Business Review study of women of color in the tech industry found that people of color, and particularly women of color, are less enthusiastic about working in the office than white people. I spent 15 years in corporate America, and I experienced micro- and macro- aggressions every single day. My experiences were unfortunately not unique: 81% of women in the HBR study said they experienced at least some racism, and 90% said they experienced at least some sexism.
During that phase of my career, mostly in nonprofit spaces, I was often the only Black woman in the room, and—while I worked with some white men who helped me build my career—I never experienced a manager who prioritized an inclusive work environment. It was isolating and draining to weather discrimination on a regular basis on my own, and I constantly felt I was walking on eggshells.
As many company leaders push to return to the “real” office, and many employees consider how to have work/life boundaries in the new frontier, what can be done to rebuild office life with inclusivity and safety prioritized? While remote work doesn’t even come close to solving the deeply entrenched biases and structural barriers of corporate America, not being physically in an office where you are the only woman of color is a huge, welcome relief. Managers stepping up is another area of action, and a way to fix the unacceptable stat from LeanIn.org’s State of Black Women in Corporate America that Black women held only 1.6% of vice president roles, and 1.4% of executive roles. As I wrote in Fast Company, manager support for women of color is critical. Managers can help workers navigate office politics, advocate for women of color on their team to receive assignments that offer opportunities for growth, and lift up their accomplishments when it is time to consider promotions.
For women of color navigating the workplace at this tumultuous time, I suggest giving yourself permission to acknowledge the real trauma that you’ve experienced. From there, the “affirmation pyramid” I wrote about earlier this year can help you to process and heal.
Ultimately, we also need true diversity in our leadership ranks—for companies and in elected office, where policy decisions impacting the workplace are made. In the meantime, in the midst of the many compounding crises we’re facing, there is also an opportunity to remake and improve our workplaces. If life will never go “back to normal,” as many women believe, we can create a normal that works for many more of us than the old way.