By: Rachel Werner
Like many people, I loathe meetings. I also prefer to work alone at home the majority of the time in the solace of my home office—defaulting my primary mode of communication with co-workers and clients to email, phone calls, and the occasional Skype or Zoom video chat. You might be led to believe by those revelations that I am an introvert. But you would be mistaken. I am typically quite lively in a crowd, and in actuality, a significant portion of my professional responsibilities necessitate live streaming from various events around town numerous times a week and engaging daily on multiple social media platforms.
But like most individuals who’ve been traumatized by toxic environments and relationships, being in confined spaces on the job makes me extremely uncomfortable. I also strongly prefer not to be in rooms where only women are present. These are the psychological battle scars I've obtained from working in media for four years. And up until a few weeks ago, I didn't know there was a name for the emotional and mental stressors impacting my ability to adapt to a new work environment and profession.
It’s called career trauma—or workplace trauma—and women of color in particular seem to be experiencing it at an alarmingly frequency. As reported in a recent Business Insider article, Black and Latina women “overall are more likely to report sexual harassment at work,” plus “women of color also face higher non-sexual harassment, like bullying. An analysis of survey responses from 800 employees found that ethnic, minority women suffered from higher rates of harassment at work when compared to white people and men of color.”
However, direct physical or verbal abuse are not the only two quantifiable factors which might signify a traumatic workplace. In a blog post for the American Bar Association, Career Unicorns CEO and lawyer Samorn Selim points out that there are numerous factors which contribute to unhealthy employee experiences such as:
- Laws focusing only on sexual harassment
- Cutthroat competitiveness
- Inadequate or biased “restructuring”
- Managers, executives and human resources minimizing the problems
- Company and colleagues gaslighting the victims
According to Selim, “women leaving the workforce because of a culture of abuse, silence, and retaliation is harmful to all of us.”
In addition, it is crucial to help build bridges for other women of color if you are viewed as a leader or mentor within an organization, company and/or creative field. Wisconsin Mujer, founder Araceli Esparza, affirms that you may be able to spark change simply by initiating open dialogue. "Show up to what you don't expect to like willing to welcome the new voices; thereby making a path for new leaders to emerge. The traditions of social justice have shifted and decolonization is a lifelong journey. Piece by piece…it takes time, so encourage your sister."
Another effective means to helping each other move forward—and out—of detrimental jobs is supporting those who have decided to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors, whether full-time or as a side gig, to achieve economic independence from an occupation which is negatively impacting one’s well-being. “With the rise of the gig economy, there’s been an overall pressure on friends and family members to support each other’s side hustles. This isn’t just a Black insight; it’s an American insight,” explains author Christine Michel Carter.
“We’re also living on the cusp of a recession, and with many of us still feeling the aftermath of the 2009 recession we’re very budget-conscious and aren’t looking to invest in, or splurge on, our family and friends’ side hustles. Having said that, Black women could do a better job of supporting each other’s professional aspirations. This can be done without having to invest money simply by liking and commenting on their (social media) posts so algorithms show their content to more followers; reposting content; or tagging a friend interested in their services.”
Real community is about allowing space to authentically share the high’s and low’s occurring in our professional and personal lives. If you or someone you know is grappling with the acute or chronic signs of career trauma, encourage them to speak with a mental health provider if insomnia, anxiety and/or depression are limiting their ability to remain employed or resume regular daily activities.
Have you ever experienced career trauma? How do you encourage and support other women of color? Tell us in the comments below.