(September 11, 2020) Working from home has thrown a wrench into the code-switching so many Black people have to engage in to manage even the most supportive work environments.
Laura Morgan Roberts is global scholar. Having written widely on strength-based professional development, and workplace equity and inclusion, she knows workplace culture and specific words for it. in 2019, she edited a book called Race, Work and Leadership; Positive Organizing in a Global Society; a book gathering resurgent interest.
Roberts and her colleague Courtney L McCluney wrote a piece for the Harvard Business Review in June, Working from Home While Black. In it, they describe code-switching thus,
“Black workers often strategically engage in code-switching — adjusting their speech, appearance, and behaviors to optimize the comfort of others with the hopes of receiving fair treatment, quality service, and opportunities. Studies show that Black employees who downplay their racial identities are perceived as more professional and are more likely to be hired than those who do not modify their self-presentation, for example.”
But it’s more difficult to keep the personal self separated from the professional self when video conferencing is the main means of communication. Wall art, home ‘offices’ and hair au natural can, as the authors suggest, “exacerbate the already stressful conditions Black workers are experiencing during this pandemic” especially when you haven’t been rewarded for authentic expression.
To counteract these judgments, and to create space to talk about race and biases, the writers suggest:
- Welcoming and respecting boundaries, schedule meetings in advance, for example, to allow people to prepare for their “work” encounters.
- Monitor implicit biases you might have about what Black people wear, ideas about Black women being single mothers, and Black men as not providing for their families.
- Adjust expectations for participation and not to not “make assumptions regarding people’s investment in their teams based upon their (un)willingness to join virtual happy hours or other team- building activities.”
As the authors conclude in this must read article, “as we ‘go to work’ amidst a deadly global pandemic, the need for this type of inclusive leadership has never been more pressing.”