Thursday, August 28, 2008

Race in the workplace: Does it affect you?

An interesting discussion at Work It, Mom!, in which a member asked if people feel pressure at work because they're black, made me think about race in the workplace and whether I'm affected by it.

As you can see from my picture at the top of this page, I'm a woman of color. What you can't see is that I'm a woman of many colors -- my mom is from India, but she's of Persian decent and looks Greek; my dad is from Haiti, but his family's roots go back to France, Germany, Africa, and the Arawak Indians who were the natives of Haiti before everyone else got there. I've never been able to choose one facet of my ethnicity over another -- when it comes to race, I've always checked "other", and if "other" isn't an option, I either check several different things or nothing at all. So when it comes to race in the workplace, I really have to think about where I stand and how, or if, it has affected me.

When I joined the company I still work for, back in 1994, my coworkers joked that the company covered a lot of ground with one hire. I represented many minorities -- young, female, non-Christian, multi-ethnic -- and, except for the youth part, I still do. But out of those four categories, I think my age and my gender were harder hurdles to overcome than my race or my religion.

Time took care of the age issue pretty quickly. And motherhood, I think, has presented more professional challenges for me than anything else so far.

Some of those challenges have been entirely internal. I was a national and political editor during 9/11, and after the news-cycle dust started to settle I discovered that I was more concerned about why our then-4-year-old had started sleepwalking than I was about making deadline. When my husband and I decided to have more children together, I obsessed over maximizing my maternity leave and paying the bills, not over keeping my name in print.

Some of them have been entirely external. A former boss, who no longer works for the company, wrote on an evaluation that my judgment and my ability to be a good editor was negatively influenced by my parenthood. There are very, very few women in glass offices who also have children at home and, for most of them who do, each one's child (yes, singular) was born after they already had already climbed the corporate ladder.

Now, the fact that race hasn't been an issue for me at work may be a factor of my location (Massachusetts) or the size and age of my company (big, old, and well-established) or my own life experience. There are plenty of women with whom I work, but I'm the only woman of color in my department -- in fact, over the course of nearly 15 years, I can count the number of women of color I've worked with directly on one hand (and none of them had children).

But do I experience more pressure at work because of my race? Not that I'm aware of. But I'm sure I'll be more aware from now on.

Any other working moms of color out there? What have you experienced in the workplace?

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