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In the past three years, 200,000 Black and Latina women disappeared from the workforce. Now, they're cautiously coming back, looking for jobs that will allow them to thrive.

  • Black and Latina women report feeling unsafe, unheard, and undervalued at higher rates than their white counterparts in the workplace.
  • They accounted for most of the decrease in labor force participation among women during the pandemic.
  • Women of color say they are looking for places to feel "safe" and "thrive" at their next jobs.

When Lauren Brooks left her public relations job in November of 2021 she had no idea that she would still be unemployed more than a year later. Shortly after the murder of George Floyd, the 33-year-old, who was the only person of color in her division, said she was tasked with a duty outside of her scope of work — to help lead DEI discussions with other members of the team. On top of the extra role, she was also navigating working alongside coworkers who shared insensitive thoughts tied to the racial reckoning on their social media. "I was burnt out, I was depressed, I was battling anxiety as well," she said. "It just finally came to a head where I literally couldn't do it anymore. I didn't feel safe in that space."  

Brooks started job searching in April 2022, but struggled to find a good fit. Not because she wasn't receiving offers, but because she was being more cautious about where she wanted to land next. "I've decided to be way more discerning about the places that I even apply to. I'm always bringing up questions about safety and how they treat people of color, especially Black people and women in their organizations, and that has ultimately made job searching a little bit more difficult because I'm not just looking for a job, I'm looking for a place to be safe where I can thrive," she said.

Emotionally burnt out

Brooks, who is a Black biracial woman, is one of more than 200,000 Black and Latina women who have disappeared from the workforce, a new study from Hue and The Harris Poll found.

A year into the pandemic, unemployment numbers reached a record high, with employment in February 2021 at 8.5 million less than it was a year prior in February 2020. More women left their jobs than men. Hispanic and Black women accounted for most of the decrease in labor force participation among women, and unemployment remained elevated among Black and Hispanic workers overall. While there have been significant improvements to the economy since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, women like Brooks are still hesitant to return to the workforce.

Hue's report also found that BIPOC individuals are two times more likely to not feel safe mentally or emotionally at work. They reported experiencing microaggressions and feeling fatigue related to racial tension in the workplace 1.5 times more often in the last six months. BIPOC employees also reported being two times more likely to leave their place of employment due to the emotional burden related to their race at work, and two times more likely to have experienced workplace discrimination due to race or ethnicity.

"There's a lot of research that shows that microaggressions, when they happen daily, they become harmful to someone's mental health or psyche or well-being," said Mary Balingit, Director of Diversity Equity Inclusion at Alma.

Balingit warns that even well-meaning comments can have a negative impact, especially when expressed by someone of a dominant group to someone of a sub-dominant group. Balingint said these comments can characterize the person and highlight them in a way that is uncomfortable. "It's this assumption of what is supposed to be proper, good, and acceptable in the workplace, whether that's your appearance, your hair, your skin color, the way that you speak, the way that you dress." 

It isn't surprising to Balingit that job seekers like Brooks are being more intentional about where they work next. From companies overpromising their DEI efforts to remote work giving some workers more autonomy, women of color are holding their employers to higher standards. "Without having to navigate the day-to-day of what it means to go into work physically and then having less experiences with being subjected to the criticisms and the microaggressions and the harassment that you could get in a typical workplace, it really makes you consider safety more," Balingit said. 

Brooks agrees: "I don't want to get into another situation where I'm going to be pushed to burn out. I also want to know how the company or organization supports their POC employees and creates a safe environment for them." 

Read the original article on Insider

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