By Amber Burton and Francesca Fontana
Most women are facing challenges during Covid-19, from navigating their careers to balancing work and home responsibilities.
But Black women are more likely than others to consider stepping away from their careers due to the pandemic, according to the Women in the Workplace 2020 study conducted by McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org.
The disease has hit Black Americans hard. They are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 as white, non-Hispanic people, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Through early August, 22% of those who died were Black, though only 13% of the U.S. population is.
Black women in the survey of more than 40,000 workers were about three times as likely as men or women overall to say their biggest workplace stress during the pandemic has been grieving the loss of a loved one. They cited concerns about work including health and safety as well.
At the same time, they were less likely to say they felt included in the workplace, and more likely to be uncomfortable sharing their grief with colleagues, the survey shows. “We have a lot weighing on us,” says Keena Wells, a senior recruiter with UnitedHealthcare who is based in Atlanta and has lost multiple family members to Covid-19.
Nearly one in four Black women said they feel they can’t bring their whole selves to work, compared with one in 10 white women. They also are less likely to say they feel supported by their managers.
Ms. Wells says that, despite the losses she and her family have had, she was hesitant to open up to colleagues about her challenges. While she has worked from home for six years, she says this moment feels different. Since the spring, her five children have been at home attending school online.
“We also don’t want to be viewed as abusive of the system of working from home,” says Ms. Wells, who took some time off earlier this year but says she worried that it could jeopardize her job.
Another survey, the Power of Belonging, by Coqual, a nonprofit research organization focused on diversity and inclusion, issued its findings in June. In that survey, while 73% of white women said they felt their managers extended satisfactory help and support when they had personal issues, only 57% of Black women did.
For many Black women, grieving over lives lost to Covid-19 has been compounded by more grief over deaths of people of color at the hands of police—and the nationwide protests that have followed.
LaKiesha Tomlin, an aerospace engineering manager in Maryland, says that in her role as a team leader she initially felt overwhelmed as the pandemic began. After keeping calm for her employees and implementing new policies to keep her in-person workers safe, the added grief of police shootings and rising racial tensions prompted her to take time to step back and regroup.
“In the midst of the pandemic and all of the protests and everything, I found myself not being able to concentrate on work,” Ms. Tomlin says. “I had to take a week off.”
New discussions about race across the country have led more corporate leaders to speak out against racism, and new conversations have been sparked about race and equality at work. Many employers have reacted by fostering open dialogues, committing to internal diversity reviews and issuing corporate statements.
“There’s been a call to action for companies to create equitable workplaces,” says Lanaya Irvin, the president of Coqual. “We are seeing leaders wanting to step up and meet the call.”
Tamara Baynham, director of clinical research at EBT Medical, says her boss has been supportive of her this year during times when she was in lockdown due to Covid and struggling to process the killings.
Dr. Baynham says she has started to allow herself to slow her pace while she works from home in Nashville, leaving some tasks unfinished at the end of the day.
Black Women at Work
Black women are almost twice as likely as white women to say gender diversity is not a priority to their company, and four times as likely to believe racial diversity isn’t a priority.
The percentage saying the death of loved ones has been one of the top challenges for them as an employee since the start of the Covid-19 crisis*
*Up to three responses allowed.
Source: McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org Women in the Workplace 2020 survey of more than 40,000 employees, June-August
“I started to give myself the same grace and mercy that I give other people,” she says, adding that the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor forced her to practice managing her grief in daily life. “As Black women, we have to compartmentalize. We have to put that aside, because we still have to work and fulfill our obligations.”
As organizations, meanwhile, look for more ways to be supportive, Coqual’s Ms. Irvin suggests that if senior leadership and managers could demonstrate that they understand the disparity of how Covid-19 is affecting the Black community, that would go a long way toward establishing more trust in the leadership by Black employees, particularly women.
For Ms. Wells at UnitedHealthcare, flexibility with her schedule and time off has been the form of support from her company that she values most. She says the encouragement to take time for herself was hard to accept at first, and it took her time to trust that the offer was genuine.
In the past few weeks, Ms. Wells says, she has taken more breaks throughout the day to be there for her family. She is currently dealing with the stress of not being able to attend a family member’s funeral, while also supporting her children who are also at home grieving.
Originally posted on Washington Street Journal