Working from home provides a certain freedom and flexibility that office life will never match, and Black women are taking advantage of that.
Whether that freedom looks like working in your pajamas, taking extra breaks, binging Netflix shows during meetings, indulging in midday workouts, or for some Black women, escaping workplace racism, working from home brings various senses of comfort that some aren’t willing to give up easily now.
Insider published a story detailing how Black women feel about working from home and how it gives them “more agency over their lives.” While the pandemic forced many companies across the nation to adopt work from home models, it also forced them to question their workplace culture, even while their teams weren’t congregating in person.
In June 2020, an Essence Magazine study reported that 45 percent of Black women said they often experienced racism while at work. Slack backed that in its recent Future Forum survey which found that more Black employees prefer working from home compared to their white colleagues. Slack’s workforce also felt 21.9 percent “better” when it came to their sense of belonging while working remotely. Slack is one of the many companies that faced challenges this past year after its Black employees started leaving the company at an alarming rate because they felt under valued.
Slack isn’t the only organization losing Black employees; Joselyn Ink, who works at a nonprofit in Los Angeles, told Insider that the organization has a 100 percent turnover rate for Black staff and at one point, she was the only Black employee last year. Ink normally works from home and while the nonprofit she works for retains most of its Black staff, it has only had five Black employees at a time.
The three common themes that Black women shared with Insider about why they lean into their work from home experiences are control, time, and change. Some mentioned how avoiding uncomfortable interactions like for instance, when they dye their hair, have made them feel more at ease. Then there are others who are just happy to save money and time on long commutes.
“They asked a lot of questions that felt overwhelming to me,” Katherine Cauley told Insider about her experience with coworkers after bleaching and cutting her hair last year.
Cauley said her colleagues would often comment on her hair and ask if its real, which would ultimately make her feel uncomfortable and cause distractions in the workplace. Since working from home, Cauley is happy she gets to avoid the curiosity from her white colleagues and do her hair as she pleases.
“I started changing my hair like crazy because I didn’t have to hear anything about it,” she said, according to Insider.
While some curiosities from white colleagues may be well-intentioned, they still come across as microaggressions that Black workers have to find a way to work through while actively in office environments.
Working from home doesn’t just provide more flexibility and comfortability for Black women, but it also helps improve mental health. Some Black women told Insider that they felt more comfortable expressing themselves and addressing microaggressions with colleagues while working from home, opposed to having to face these situations in person at the office.
“You cannot expect anyone to stay engaged, productive, or connected when they experience toxic stress of trauma,” Erica Reed, a workplace psychologist, told Insider. “When a person is removed from that environment, they’re able to now work from home and have recovery time.”
Childcare is another big factor as to why Black women want to continue working from home. The Center for American Progress reported that nearly 84.4 percent of Black mothers are the breadwinners in their households, so saving on childcare costs have been crucial in the past year.
Working from home also warrants more protective factors for Black women. One aspect of the work from home environment that Princess Pierre, a 34-year-old public relations coordinator in Florida, enjoys is the fact that she can track more concrete documentation of her workplace experiences from being able to record meetings to tracking more frequent email threads.
“You’re not seeing my Blackness in your face,” Pierre told Insider. “You’re just getting the colleague side of me. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot more respect, actually.”
Retaining work from home flexibility could be a step in the right direction of creating safer work environments for Black women. However, this issue touches on the fact that many Black workers are not in roles that allow them to work from home.
“We have to think about inequity in the job market and our economy,” Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, a Black professor at Temple University, told Insider. “They were willing to throw the essential workers under the bus — and oftentimes those essential workers looked like me.”
Sheela Subramanian, senior director of Future Forum by Slack, and Tina Gilbert, managing director of Management Leadership for Tomorrow, detailed some of these job market inequities in a blog post.
Here are three things Subramanian and Gilbert shared that executives should be thinking about as they foster more inclusive workplace cultures and remote work models:
- Take accountability for delivering fundamental change.
- Center diversity, equity and inclusion in your new working model.
- Embrace flexible work