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Remote Work Is Changing The Way Black Women Have To Deal With Microaggressions
Career & Money

Remote Work Is Changing The Way Black Women Have To Deal With Microaggressions

When Mone’t walked into the office Monday morning, she was rocking a new hairstyle: blonde hair and long braids. Before she could even make it to her desk, a coworker approached her and said, “Oh cool! Predator!” referencing the aliens in the cult classic sci-fi franchise and saying her hairstyle looked similar to the extraterrestrial species.

She couldn’t even make it to her seat or make her morning cup of coffee before she was faced with microaggressions in the office.


Her story and a long list of variations are a mirrored experience for Black women in professional settings across the country. Not only do they have to navigate the gendered pressures of being a woman in the workplace, but they’re also subjected to racial microaggressions.

Microaggressions are defined as everyday subtle comments and interactions that are intentional and sometimes unintentional and geared toward historically marginalized groups and perpetuate racial and gender biases. Its muted manner makes it sometimes difficult to pinpoint compared to overt racism and even more so difficult to report.

From not "smiling enough" to being considered angry when others are deemed "passionate," Black women have to navigate office culture differently from their peers, and honestly, it’s exhausting. From comments on our hair to pressure to code-switch to be more palatable, for many Black women, office culture was synonymous with a toxic culture. For Black women, microaggressions can range from comments on hair, appearance, manner of speaking, disposition, and even work ethic.

So what’s been the fix to the stressful and exhausting office environments? Remote work.

A Harvard study found Black workers preferred hybrid or fully remote work at higher rates than white workers. In the comfort of their own homes and offices, where their coworkers show up on screen and not in their faces, they've found freedom from the microaggressions they used to face daily.

We spoke to three Black women in the corporate world in various fields on why being behind a screen gives them a respite from the expected code-switching and microaggressions they faced in the office.

Mone’t 

For Mone’t, she has always been the only Black female software engineer at her tech job. She constantly found herself in the midst of uncomfortable conversations - whether it was a coworker wearing a Confederate shirt or someone questioning her role as an engineer.

“This Iranian guy told me I didn't look like a software engineer, and I said, 'Well, that's funny because you don’t look like a software engineer either because most software engineers are white men,'” she shared with xoNecole. "Most people automatically assume I’m either the product manager or the designer, and I have to correct them and let them know I'm an engineer."

"I don't deal with that as much anymore because I'm full-time remote and not in the office anymore, and it's a relief. I can focus on the work and not just make small talk which usually leads to somebody commenting on your appearance or position. Now that I’m remote, I don’t code-switch at all. I decided what you see is what you get. Not being me was exhausting.”

Tim Robberts/Getty Images

Briana 

As the only Black person at her marketing job, Briana dealt with microaggressions that questioned her abilities in a job that she knew she was not only qualified for but also very skilled at. “Working remotely, people trust you to do your job. In the office, I dealt with a lot of micromanaging and people second-guessing my abilities, and coworkers even coming behind me and changing my work. When you’re dealing with social media, everyone thinks they can do your job."

"The major difference I’ve experienced now being a remote worker is that my team has confidence in me. They recognize I’m not only getting the job done, but I’m doing it well. Remote work has forced jobs to get more creative with recognition because you can’t just walk up to a coworker's desk and say, 'Good job.' Now they have to provide extra encouragement because they’re not there. I feel more supported now.”

Ajeyinka 

For Ajeyinka, the microaggressions she faced were most often directed toward her appearance. “My hair has always been something that I've been mindful of, especially working in Corporate America. When I worked in the office, I usually styled my hair in braids or straight styles. I don't comment when my non-Black colleagues do something with their hair or style, but people always feel comfortable commenting when it comes to Black women."

Ajeyinka continued, "As Black women we switch up our hair a lot, and I just don’t think those changes need to be called out or pointed out every time. Now that I’m remote, I’ve cut my hair, I've experimented with color, and wear my nails how I want.”

Ajeyinka still faces microaggressions but notes they are less frequent now. Remote work cuts down on the in-person conversations where those microaggressions would typically take place.

FreshSplash/Getty Images

Even as corporations and companies across the nation take steps toward increasing diversity, equity, and inclusive training, microaggressions in the workplace will not just simply cease to exist because workers are behind a screen. People will still have their biases, judgments and make inappropriate comments.

But, it's important to recognize that offices can be hostile and toxic environments for many, especially for Black women, and if remote work can decrease the frequency in which those interactions occur, it's worth asking…why are we in a rush to get back to the office?

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Featured image by humanmade/Getty Images

 

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