Researchers at Future Forum have found that only 3% of Black professionals are looking forward to working in an office again. In comparison, Future Forum found that 21% of white professionals are looking forward to working in an office again. Many Black research participants believe the disparity in research results is driven by the discrimination many professionals of color face when working in an office environment.
“That’s because they don’t have to deal with the microaggressions we do,” Atlanta-based marketing and public relations expert Crystal Lowe told NBC News.
“And, yes, when you throw in the other elements of the last year, well, it’s really bad. Who wants to work in the office? I’d rather clean up dog poop. And I am serious.”
During the pandemic, the nation has also engaged with matters of police brutality and institutionalized racism in a way that it never had done before. In addition, American society endured a presidential election that was marked with discussions about race, abuse and much more. As a result, water cooler conversations may be a bit tenser than they were before.
“And some people who were not as ‘woke’ woke up,” Lowe added.
“And now they’re asking those ‘woke’ people to go into an office where they have always been marginalized? That’s a hard thing to do.”
Not to mention, there was a riot on Capitol Hill six months ago that left multiple people dead and sparked further discussions about racism in American society.
“You look at those insurrectionists and most of those people look like our co-workers," Lowe pointed out to NBC News.
Adding to the societal issues that make their way into working environments, many Black professionals also deal with a lack of diversity in the workplace. Future Forum reports that less than 6% of tech professionals are Black. Yet, several major tech companies are making strong efforts to get employees back into the office. Furthermore, many Black professionals are exhausted from dealing with colleagues that don't look like them and supervisors that don't look like them. Future Forum also found that less than 9% of managers are Black.
"Historically, many companies have tried to retrofit principles of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) onto their existing processes, policies and norms. The pandemic and the protests following the extrajudicial killings of Black Americans last summer caused many executives to rethink and redesign working models, often radically," Sheela Subramanian of Future Forum stated.
"But retrofitting is not enough. True equality depends on a wholesale redesign of the workplace. The disruption and trauma of the past year have created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redesign working models from the ground up—with principles of diversity, equity and inclusion placed at the center from the start."
Allowing Black professionals to work from home will not solve all the ills of racism and discrimination in the workplace, but it does provide marginalized workers a feeling of freedom.
“Home became a safe space for Black workers in the last year,” diversity, equity and inclusion consultant Joseph B. Hill explained.
“Their feeling is understandable: Why go into an office where I feel the impact of microaggressions that are all steeped in racism? Working from home has provided a sense of freedom from that."
Despite the concerns raised by thousands of Black professionals, many Fortune 500 companies are moving forward with plans to return to the office. Unfortunately, many Black employees feel uncomfortable speaking about their issues because they fear they may lose their jobs.
“There are thousands of Black people who want to scream how much they’d rather work from home,” Los Angeles-based professional Sandra McPherson concluded.
“But they don’t want to lose their jobs. It’s a tough place to be in. My relief from having to go into an office that doesn’t make me feel good — that actually makes me feel bad — is indescribable. I wish that for everyone. But it’s sad that most of us won’t get that peace we deserve as we do our jobs.”