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Going Back to the Office Is Fraught for Many

Every Monday morning, my stomach would be in knots as I walked into the office. I knew what was in store. My coworkers would talk about their weekends, laugh raucously at inside jokes, talk about how they enjoyed meeting each other and their respective partners/kids/pets/families.

I was never invited.

The first few times I tried to join in the conversation, I’d get a polite smile or awkward silence. Soon, I knew my place: Quiet, smart, hard-working, boring Indian woman.

So, I had to play the part. Mumble “good morning” and scurry to my desk. Look extremely fascinated by my screen–nothing could be more energizing than running the numbers this morning! Listen to the chatter of an almost-all-white office and majority male co-workers, while I kept my head down. No one cared about me or my weekend.

To this day, nearly a decade later, I can viscerally remember the feeling of my stomach sinking when I badged in on Monday mornings.

So when I interviewed 10 women of color over the last three months on how they feel about returning to the office this year, I felt their responses and fears in my bones.

Read what they told me in the New York Times.

What you need to know is this: many workers aren’t rushing back to the office for many, many reasons. But on top of “universal” ones (like the reluctance to give up the awesomeness of working from pajamas) is the very real fear for women of color of facing physical bias and exclusionary behavior again:

  • Like being asked if we’ve had arranged marriages when we’re talking about data analytics (check.)

  • Like being told our name is so pretty but gosh what a mouthful could there be a shorter version, while we were pitching a client (check.)

  • Like being involuntarily patted on the shoulder, hair touched or having our physical space encroached upon (check! Check! Check!)

If you believe inclusion is leadership, then you’ll be watching very closely for these unacceptable behaviors and working harder to create a work environment that’s inclusive to all.


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