To date, women are still struggling with the issue of equality and discrimination in their personal and professional lives and an even greater struggle can be seen within the community of African American women. Black women continue to be discriminated against due to their skin color and gender. This can be seen through the combination of racism and sexism which has severely limited the progress of African American women. This type of discrimination is especially prevalent in the workplace, where black women earn a significantly smaller wage, and receive fewer opportunities than their similarly qualified peers. The aim of this paper is to synthesize & evaluate research, demonstrating how factors such as microaggressions, education, and location, can intersect to create additional barriers towards women of color and their advancement in the workforce as leaders.
“Workplace discrimination refers to actions of institutions and/or individuals within them, setting unfair terms and conditions that systematically impair the ability of members of a group to work” (Okechukwu 3).
Many times, these acts of discrimination are motivated by beliefs of lowliness of a disadvantaged outgroup compared to a dominant ingroup. Women face many branches of discrimination within their workplaces, however, while some forms of discrimination are obvious, others may not be. These forms are usually hidden because behaving in an outwardly discriminatory way is not considered socially acceptable. These discrimination tactics are called “microaggressions”. They can span to microinsults, microvalidations, and microassaults; essentially any action that would exclude, negate or nullify one’s opinion or actions. Tessa Basford, a psychologist at The George Washington University, explains that microinsults involve actions that are rude or insensitive, or directly demean a person’s racial identity. Furthermore, she explains that perceptions of racial microaggressions can be associated with poorer projected work outcomes (Basford 342). Cassandra Okechukwu might agree with Basford’s view on poor work outcomes, by connecting the observations she conducted in her study. Okechukwu determined that workplace injustices like subtle microaggressions, overtime can influence a workers’ physical and mental health having adverse effects on family life and job-related productivity (Okechukwu 8). Unfortunately, African American women in the workforce can be seen to encounter nearly twice as many of these microaggressions than their white female colleagues (Hall 3).
Career advancement has also been shown to be incredibly hindered by these microaggressions, ultimately leading to a premature leave from the workforce. This may result from behavioral “hints” that subtlety encourage these Black women to quit their jobs (Wong 188). Author Sheryl Sandberg, of the bestselling book Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, provides a counterargument on the feasibility of career advancement. She argues that a women’s lack of belief in themselves is what prevents them from competing with men in the workplace, thus stunting advancement in their careers. Sandberg acknowledges gender bias but stresses the point that professional and clear career advice is sufficient for overcoming this issue. In this, is can be assumed that Sandberg implies this is an issue that need not be addressed head on, that bias only hurts women if they allow it to (Sandberg).
Though researchers have yet to really explore perceptions of gender workplace microaggressions, existing work suggests that women are more susceptible to noticing microaggressions against other women. In being aware of these actions, it is said that women may associate these aggressions with a more negative outcome than their male counterparts (Basford 343). Research examining the experience of gender microaggressions indicates that women who perceived higher levels of discrimination were reported to have a lower commitment to their organizations than males who experienced similar experiences of discrimination who were able to “shrug off” the effects (Basford 342). With the presence of microaggressions in the workplace, Black women face a great potential for missed opportunities. It is noted that one-in-ten women say they have been passed up on for important assignment because of their race and gender (Parker).
Social institutions like government offices and workplaces fail to address the concerns and rights to protect people who are targeted by these micro-aggressions of concealed racism by claiming it as “freedom of speech”. As a result, we enter a grey area that only continues to enable subtle racism towards black women (Collins 4). The outcome due to these aggressions, is that we are seeing less women in the workforce and an even substantially smaller number of African American women within this population.