Today I’m learning about “social identity threat” in the workplace, a psychological theory that explains this phenomenon:
“Significant racial gaps in people’s psychological experiences at work remain, even when difference in income and education are controlled.”
Well, this is no surprise to #blackwomenatwork. But how can this theory help to pinpoint the exact problem… and hopefully its solution?
Authors Emerson and Murphy argue the threat to people of color in the workplace, in addition to overt forms of discrimination (and I would add microaggressions), includes concerns about whether they “will belong and be accepted”, whether they can “be themselves”, and whether they will have "fair chances for advancement."
This psychological burden is very stressful and the authors wonder if there’s anything organizations can do to lessen this threat. They offer some suggestions to correct “threatening cues,” including:
That’s a lot of things! A veritable smorgasbord. So, folks, let’s pick a few and get to work on eliminating this burden and making the workplace safe for everyone.
Today the phrase “selective incivility” popped into my worldview. Part of an article on how the Swiss discriminate against immigrants, it means “low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect,” selectively delivered to certain groups. That’s some language to chew on.
The article, part of a special series on race and ethnicity in the workplace, tested whether certain groups, defined by their national origin and associated stereotypes, were more or less likely to receive this kind of treatment. The authors argued French and German immigrants, deemed both highly competent (read: threatening) and less warm, were more likely than immigrants from other countries (controlling for things like gender, age and personality) to experience coworkers doing the following:
Now, devoid of race, which this article was, I find these findings pretty meaningless – certainly not eligible for the stated comparison with race relations between White and Asian coworkers in the US. BUT! Call me intrigued by “selective incivility”. Where does this fit among the other words for “bad stuff happening in the workplace”? Harassment, hostility, implicit bias, racial microaggressions? I’m not sure, but it has a special appeal as follows:
"These beliefs present a subtle, ostensibly rational form of expressing prejudice and help people preserve a nonprejudiced self-image. ...This discrimination is subtle because of the ambiguous nature and apparent neutrality of the uncivil behaviors, instigators easily find (consciously or not) nonprejudicial explanations for their conduct (e.g., “I have too much work”). Selective incivility is hence a particularly well-suited means by which people may mistreat minorities without damaging their nonprejudiced image of themselves and toward others. "
So, it’s the ultimate passive aggressive tool. It’s like micro-passive-aggression. The perpetrator remains innocent, a desire well-documented in predominantly white workplaces. A nice new word for a nasty little trend.
Equity, Equity, Equity. What a word you are – you sound a little like your cousin “equality”, but you are somehow fresher, snappier. So many have written or made videos about how you two are different, but why are people making such a fuss about you, in particular?
Because, Equity, though you may seem footloose and fancy-free, you have hidden depths. You demand an acknowledgement of the legacy of historical wrongs. You demand attention towards continuing bias and oppression (the African American Policy Forum does an excellent job of summing all this up in cartoon form). You envision – and you demand – an end to harm and a path to collective liberation.
But many people have trouble seeing you for what you are, particularly when you call yourself Racial Equity. Often you get sandwiched between “diversity” and “inclusion”, two seeming buddies who are actually carrying a great deal of hidden baggage. Diversity celebrates difference without asking who benefits, while inclusion welcomes without asking who is hosting. These are not your buddies. In fact, they are working against you, telling others that if we all just come together, unite in our differences, that… sorry, I’m going blank here.
Racial Equity, you require something of us. In the workplace, for example, you require we acknowledge (among other things):