It’s no longer a secret that women have been facing barriers in the workplace–as a result of COVID-19, almost 3 million women dropped out of the their jobs, reversing the previous trend of more women entering the workforce and illustrating obstacles that women face in greater proportion than men–such as childcare, eldercare and bias in the workplace.
SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)
The situation has been worse for Black women, who have faced different challenges in the tech industry. Unemployment declined in December 2021 for white people (3.2%), Asian American people (3.8%) and Latino or Hispanic people (4.9%). However, unemployment increased from 6.5% in November to 7.1% in December for Black people. Black women, in particular, are struggling: participating in the workforce at just 60.3%.
Black women being forced out of the workforce is a big loss, as well, because it means a lack of diversity of ideas. Janine Yancey, the founder and CEO of Emtrain, a workplace culture tech platform that helps companies with inclusion, is a former labor attorney who has focused much of her research on bias, harassment and discrimination at work, all factors that have led to a greater dropout rate for Black women at work, as well as a tougher battle to bring these employees back.
SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: What employers can do to keep women on board (TechRepublic)
According to Yancey, who recently co-authored the research paper, “A Data-Driven Approach to Winning the War for Talent During the Great Resignation,” Black women have experienced the greatest rate of bias. For instance, they are more likely to have to “prove it again,” consistently being asked to demonstrate worth and knowledge, when others aren’t. They also experience “tightrope bias,” which is the fine line between likeability and competence.
These patterns, once detected, can be countered “with systematic decision-making and strong social connections,” Yancey said. However, the global pandemic has weakened these systems.
“The virtual interactions and social distancing, necessitated by COVID, have made it more difficult to develop strong social connections,” she said, “and without those strong social connections acting as a check, bias has more opportunity to impact the workplace experiences of women and people of color, and Black women most acutely.”
Digital communication, she believes, has also been a big challenge during COVID. “We still have undeveloped skills in digital communication,” she said, “and yet, since COVID, we’re all relying primarily on digital communication, and we’ve not yet adopted best practices for virtual and digital communication.”
When there are communication difficulties at the workplace, Black women are disproportionately affected, Yancey said–and as a result, “they’re hesitant to return to an in-person experience where they often feel pressure to conform to white social norms, in terms of appearance and communication, where they consistently experience microaggressions,” she said.
In the last several years, women in tech such as Ellen Pao and Susan Fowler spoke up about mistreatment and inequality, part of the growing #MeToo movement, and Yancey believes that a similar reckoning is due for race. “Younger demographics are not willing to conform to any social norm that is not authentic or that they cannot embrace,” she said.
“We are quickly reaching a tipping point in the workforce where everyone wants to see different demographics represented, included and a culture that enables everyone to feel a sense of belonging,” she said.