Stress, Health and the Workplace – What is “Gendered Racism?”

Afro-American businesswoman holding a notepad

Stress & Health: What is “Gendered Racism?”  What is the impact of being a woman in the workplace?  What is the impact of being African American on our experience in the workplace?  What if you are an African American woman?

Businessman And Businesswoman In Street With Takeaway CoffeeIt is not surprising that even after African American women have worked hard, and reached a successful point in our careers, we will continue to deal with bias related stress in the workplace. Some of the stress affecting African American women in high-status positions who find themselves with few peers of the same race and gender is from “Gendered Racism.”  Gendered racism is a unique form of oppression that occurs at the intersection of race and gender and comes from people’s perceptions, stereotypes, and images of a particular group.

According to a study that examined the effects of gendered racism on psychological distress among African American women, these experiences are associated with increased psychological distress (Thomas, Witherspoon, and Speight, 2004).  In a study assessing perceptions of workplace stress, African American women said that they tried to avoid the label of “hostile.”  As a result, they said that they have changed the way they spoke and the way they acted to avoid behaviors that would conform to stereotypical beliefs held by their supervisors and colleagues. (Hall, Everett, and Hamilton-Mason, 2012).

These efforts impact women’s health by causing internal conflict or stress, which has been associated with sleep loss, high blood pressure, and emotional eating. In addition, when these women experienced a racist or sexist act, they may be hesitant to address the problem due to fears of being ostracized or labeled “too sensitive.” How can we protect our own health if we have the same or similar experiences?  We can do this by being aware of our emotions, by being mindful of our physical reactions, by using techniques in “conscious breathing,” and utilizing our social support networks.

How do we do this?

beautiful young african woman meditating at home

  • We must first identify what we can and cannot control.  Though we may not be able to prevent these stressors, we can control our reactions to them.  By being aware of our thoughts, emotions, and physical reactions at the moment of our negative experience, we can add space between the incident and our response — a practice that is helped by using “conscious breathing.” (Kabat-Zinn, 2009)  You can find information on conscious breathing at “3 Minute Breathing Space.”  Within this “space” we can look at our choices for our next move.  This process creates a state of mindfulness.  By taking an objective approach to our personal experiences, we are more aware of ourselves and our reactions and thereby, reinstate our sense of personal control and regulation.
  • We can reach out to other women — family members, friends, and colleagues — with whom we can discuss our experiences and share our emotional reactions.  Tapping into these social networks gives us the opportunity to talk about and recognize our emotions and receive critically needed support.  Talking to friends and family also fulfills our basic need to belong; a need that may not be satisfied in a work environment that quietly devalues ones identity.
  • Consider professional counseling services as a socially constructive way to cope with gendered racism.  A counselor can help you better understand how you think and feel as well as help you to create some strategies you can use to maintain a positive emotional state.
  • We must prioritize self-care.  Take the time to pay attention to your diet, exercise regularly, and engage in activities that you find relaxing.  Awareness of the mind-body connection is essential for effective stress management.

–Veronica Y. Womack, Ph.D.

Veronica Womack is a social psychologist in Chicago, Illinois.  She studies the psychosocial factors of career decisions and stress-related health behaviors among ethnic minorities.

 

Sources: Thomas AJ, Witherspoon KM, Speight SL. Gendered racism, psychological distress, and coping styles of African American women. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. 2008;14(4):307.

Hall JC, Everett JE, Hamilton-Mason J. Black women talk about workplace stress and how they cope. Journal of Black Studies. 2012;43(2):207-226.

Kabat-Zinn J, Hanh TN. Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Random House LLC; 2009

Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness: http://www.amazon.com/Full-Catastrophe-Living-Revised-Edition/dp/0345536932/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403107864&sr=8-1&keywords=full+catastrophe+living

 

COPYRIGHT©2014 by Living Well Black, Inc.

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