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Catalyst and ESSENCE Magazine Team Up to Examine the Emotional Tax Black Women Bear at Work

Catalyst’s Exclusive Findings Reveal the Toll of Exclusionary Work Climates on the Well-Being of Black Professionals

New York City, N.Y., October 11, 2016— Feeling like they have to outwork and outperform others is the norm for many Black professionals. As a result, both Black women and Black men may experience a psychological burden related to navigating work climates in which they may not feel valued for their unique contributions. In its new report, Emotional Tax: How Black Women and Men Pay More at Work and How Leaders Can Take Action (Emotional Tax), Catalyst shares new data—prepared exclusively for ESSENCE magazine—revealing an “emotional tax” that Black professionals can feel and, most critically, acknowledging the heightened experiences of being different from peers at work because of their gender and/or race/ethnicity and the associated detrimental effects on their health, well-being, and the ability to thrive at work.
 
The study shares observations from nearly 650 Black women and Black men in the United States including non-management professionals, first-level managers, middle managers, senior executives, and CEO/entrepreneurs whose occupations span various business sectors. Respondents’ comments about their experiences at work paint a clear picture about aspects of emotional tax in action—feeling they have to be “on guard,” disrupting their sleep patterns, and reducing their sense of psychological safety—which resulted in some participants feeling like they must simply accept things as “just the way they are” and “suck it up.”
 
Among the report’s key findings:  

  • Black Women and Black Men Want Similar Things Out of Life: Influence, Power, and Purpose—Eighty-seven percent of Black women and 85 percent of Black men want to be influential leaders, 81 percent of Black women and 82 percent of Black men want to obtain a high-ranking position and 89 percent of both Black women and Black men want to engage in challenging and intellectually stimulating work.
  • Black Women and Men Feel Set Apart from Co-Workers and That They Must Be “On Guard”—Fifty-four percent of survey respondents who said they felt different because of their gender and race/ethnicity believed they had to be “on guard” when at work, compared with only 34 percent of those who did not feel different from their colleagues on either.
  • Emotional Tax Is Also Linked to Sleep Problems for Black Women and Black Men—Forty-five percent of Black professionals who felt different from their colleagues on gender and race/ethnicity said they had sleep troubles compared with only 25 percent of those who did not feel different on either.
  • Psychological Safety May Relieve the Emotional Tax Paid by Black Professionals—Among those surveyed, 54 percent of those who didn’t feel different on either gender or race/ethnicity felt psychologically safe (or feel like their team members “have your back”), compared to 34 percent of those who felt different on either gender, race/ethnicity, or both.

“Partnering with ESSENCE presented Catalyst with an opportunity to explore the unique experiences of Black professionals at work, specifically identifying what happens to our minds, bodies, and spirits when we feel set apart, undervalued, and not heard in the workplace, despite our hard work and organizational best efforts to foster inclusion,” said Dnika J. Travis, PhD, Vice President, Women of Color Research & Center Leader, Catalyst Research Center for Corporate Practice. “We believe everyone—whether working in the C-suite, on the front-lines, as entrepreneurs, managers or in junior positions—has a role to play in lessening emotional tax and its effects on the careers of Black women and men.”
 
Findings from Emotional Tax are featured prominently in ESSENCE’s November 2016 issue in the article titled “Black Women and the Burden of Success: How to Get Around 'Black Tax' and Protect Your Emotional Health at Work.”
 
ESSENCE partnered with Catalyst on this research because we believe the better our audience is informed about the challenges and opportunities they have to rise in their careers, the more empowered we will be,” said Vanessa De Luca, Editor-in-Chief, ESSENCE magazine. “It is admirable that Catalyst has taken the initiative to dig deeper and find the reasons why women of color get stuck on their career journey. Identifying the obstacles can help us to make career decisions that change the success narrative.”
 
Emotional Tax is part of Catalyst’s Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Workplace Research Initiative, which focuses on developing knowledge and strategies to help leaders and organizations create inclusive organizations where all can thrive and succeed. Forthcoming research will examine emotional tax across communities of color, including Asian, Black and Latino professionals.

Learn more about Emotional Tax: How Black Women and Men Pay More at Work and How Leaders Can Take Action