How To Cope When Being A Minority At Work Contributes To Stress

There are so many things that contribute to stress at work: a boring job, unreasonable workloads, organizational changes and relationship dynamics are just a few. Being a minority in the workplace on top of that can seem like an added challenge. According to minority rights, 35.5% of the U.S. population is Hispanic or Latino, Black or African American or Asian.

report discussing the idea of emotional tax for people of color in the workplace found 58% of Asian, Black and Latin employees are on “guard.” Emotional tax is defined as the combination of feeling different at work because of gender, race and or ethnicity and the associated implications on thriving at work. On guard is defined as consciously preparing to deal with potential bias or discrimination. Those feelings also affect retention as 38% report they are more likely to consider leaving their job.

Why are people like you or perhaps those you lead on guard, according to the report?

  • Age

  • Physical ability

  • Physical appearance

  • Gender

  • Race

  • Spiritual or religious beliefs

  • A combination of more than one of these factors

Let’s look a bit more at women in the workplace using findings from the department of labor.  

  • Almost 47% of U.S. workers are women.

  • More than 39% of women work in occupations where women make up at least three-quarters of the workforce.

Women are overly represented in specific occupations and underrepresented in others.

  • Speech-language pathologists - 98%

  • Dental assistants - 93%

  • Social workers - 82%

  • Civil engineers - 11%

  • HVAC and refrigeration mechanics and installers - 1%

When women are in a management occupation, here are the sectors that see more female presence. 

  • Human resources managers - 74%

  • Social and community service managers - 74%

  • Education administrators - 65%

I worked in a rural area in Japan at 21, so I know how it feels to be a minority in the workplace on multiple levels. It takes some soul-searching and intentional actions to embrace who you are so you can bring your best self to work. Just this past week, I’ve had one-on-one coaching sessions with three high-achieving women of different races: a Caucasian lady, an African American woman and an Asian lady. They were all feeling anxious or stressed due to being on guard against potential bias or discrimination. I found myself coaching and helping them implement variations of some of the aspects summarized below.

Focus on self-regulation

Not every action or word needs a reaction, and your ability to recognize this and control your feelings and emotions can help save a lot of escalated emotions and heartache. Anger, fear or sadness are sources of depletion. Try to preserve your energy so you can accomplish your goals. Stereotypes and biases are unfortunate, but they don’t have to stop you from achieving your potential. You can thrive in your career and overcome anything!

Find an outlet

Discrimination can make you feel hopeless. Joining a group or giving back to a cause that supports a similar minority with similar challenges can be helpful. Making more time for your hobbies or discovering new hobbies can help too. A study found that using a form of creative expression can help with stress management.

Find community 

Close friendships and support groups help us get things off our chest, come up with new ways to handle situations and can inspire us to keep going. The Mayo Clinic has some simple, yet, effective suggestions on how to maintain and nurture social support networks.

  • Keep in contact

  • Be a good listener

  • Appreciate your friends and family

  • Be available for family and friends when they need your support

Studies such as this one have shown that those who enjoy close friendships over their teenage years also have a lower rate of depression in years to come. Support is crucial. 

Put yourself in the right environment

Unfortunately, there are companies out there that will pretend to be what they’re not. Perhaps, you’ve decided that you want to leave your current company or even make a career change. Here are a few things to do and be mindful of in your next career move. 

1. Take a good look at the senior leadership and executive teams.

What are their ethnicities, genders and nationalities? Even places of education and former places of employment can give away a fixed mindset and an environment that doesn’t welcome diversity. 

2. What are the company’s current diversity initiatives, and what are similar companies doing to ensure diversity?

Now ask yourself, are they really going above and beyond or does it seem like a checkbox exercise? 

Here are a few diversity awards. Has the company participated in any of these, and to what extent?

  1. National Diversity Awards (U.S.) Corporate DiversityFIRST Leadership Award

  2. Distinguished Healthcare Diversity Advocate

  3. DiversityFIRST Top 40 Companies

  4. Glass Ceiling Award

  5. Influential Women Leaders Award

  6. Leadership Excellence Award

3. Talk to people to find out about the employee experience.

Employee experience is everything to do with attracting, hiring, on-boarding, developing and an employee leaving a company. Gallup has found that 90% of those not treated with respect report at least one of 35 different discrimination or harassment experiences at work. Ask questions to find out whether the employee experience is rooted in respect.

Practice self-care

If you’re familiar with my work, you know I’m a big advocate of self-care and talking about quantity and quality sleep. The National sleep foundation says, “sleeping less than six hours each night is one of the best predictors of on-the-job burnout.” My 6-week program and burnout coaching clients complete a sleep hygiene assessment. It’s also proven to be a wise activity for individuals who are not particularly stressed or burned out. Who wouldn’t find it easier to manage stress and achieve their career goals when they have optimal energy? 

This article was first published on my Forbes column.