Combating the ‘Emotional Tax’ that People of Color Pay in Canadian Workplaces

a black male worker with a white female coworker looking over his shoulder
Many workers of color say they need to be empowered to do their work on their own and not micromanaged.

Canada is a diverse nation and is becoming more so every year. And this will be reflected in the workforce as more millennials and Gen Zers enter the job market.

In fact, 22% of the Canadian workforce is made up of people of color (POC). But according to a new study by Catalyst, a global nonprofit that works with companies to build better workplaces for women, these POC pay a heavy “emotional tax” for working in white-dominated workplaces.

This “tax” can include sleep problems, increased anxiety and depression, and a reduced ability to contribute at work because they are investing so much time and emotion worrying about not fitting in.  

Too Many People Suffer

According to their study, 33-50% of surveyed black, East Asian and South Asian workers in Canada described themselves as “highly on guard” against bias and discrimination in the workplace. Of these people, 50-69% said they have a “high intent” to quit their jobs.

One Toronto woman of color described constant comments and questions from coworkers about her race and whether it affected her getting her job. While thinking about quitting, friends at other businesses told her their situations were not much better. 

“The experience of people of colour in our workplaces is substantially different,” said Tanya van Biesen of Catalyst. “There is this putting on body armour in the morning for fear that they might be treated differently or perceived differently or that people may not value the contributions they have or the past experience they have.”

Execs, HR Can Do Something About It

If you run a business, or even if you just work in a human resources department, ensuring employee happiness and safety is an essential part of your company’s success. Doing this will help you attract the best new talent as well.

The report cites “creating an empowering” work environment as the key to helping employees of color pay a lower emotional tax. This includes:

  • Being an ally to employees of color by listening and being supportive
  • Engaging with employees and encouraging them to have discussions about their experience as POC
  • Trusting employees of color to do their work and take on challenging projects and treating them like other employees
  • Providing backup for employees when they need it after an uncomfortable experience
  • Measuring diversity in the workplace and increasing as necessary
  • Holding employees accountable when they display bias toward coworkers of color

Working with an experienced employment lawyer can go a long way toward getting your business on the right track. You can work with a lawyer to update your company’s employee manual and implement diversity training. But the first and best thing you can do is acknowledge the people of color in your business and provide them an environment where they can talk to you about their experiences if they wish. 

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