Studies suggest that racial discrimination and gender bias affect mental and physical health, and have been linked to high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression. And although women of color might experience discrimination or bias separately, it’s not uncommon for there to be both at the same time.
So, in the interest of showing how pervasive these behaviors are in so many different workplaces, here are some stories about these issues as well as some ways that women deal with them.
“My staff seemed surprised to know that I existed upon meeting me, and they didn’t hide their shock.”
All of my experiences with discrimination and gender bias are nuanced; every conversation adds a new layer. I’m a school psychologist, and have lived all over the US, but constantly run into ignorance in Utah, where I guess being a woman of color with a graduate degree and professional experience is exotic. My staff seemed surprised to know that I existed upon meeting me, and they didn’t hide their shock. I’m constantly second-guessed, until I start quoting law and rattling off all the places I’ve practiced. I try not to focus on it all the time, but some people are really rattled by my presence and comfort in my own skin.
—Casey D., Facebook
“I once handed a coffee to a white man, and he looked at the logo and said, ‘Huh, looks like you’ under his breath.”
I am half-white and half-Polynesian (Samoan and Hawaiian), and I work at Starbucks. I once handed a coffee to a white man, and he looked at the logo and said, “Huh, looks like you” under his breath. I laughed out of fear and awkwardness. He aggressively took the cup from my hand, spilling it on my hand, and said, “Not a compliment.” Then he just left.
“The guy ignored me and asked my employees questions about MY project the entire time.”
One time I went to a conference with my two male employees. They introduced me to another man there who was from another organization so that I could tell him about some initiatives I was directing. The guy ignored me and asked my employees questions about MY project the entire time. When I gave input, he didn’t listen at all.
“Currently, I’m getting underpaid by about $13,000 a year compared to a male coworker who has the same position.”
Currently, I’m getting underpaid by about $13,000 a year compared to a male coworker who has the same position, same credentials, and same experience as me. Both of us, as well as some others on my team, collectively deal with it by showing our employer that we are aware of it and will not tolerate it. We went to our union with the information and they’re going to try to negotiate equal pay starting in March. If they cannot change anything, we’ll continue to show a unified front by taking the legal route.
“They’ll even ask if my company contracted me to work to meet diversity requirements.”
Both new coworkers and clients automatically assume that I’m an intern or someone’s part-time assistant rather than a salaried employee with a grad degree. Whether I’m in the office or on the road, questions come up like, “So you’re an intern?” or “When do you finish up school?” They’ll even ask if my company contracted me to work to meet diversity requirements. I got so tired of responding to these ignorant assumptions that I’ve started nicely replying, “What makes you think that?” At that point, they’ll usually start fumbling — I think it makes them realize their subtle prejudice.
“Self-segregating and checking on each other daily was a matter of mental survival.”
I use to work for a Catholic diocese. There were so few black people there that out of seven floors, there were less than 40 of us. We all kept close to each other; visiting each other’s desks, sitting together at work functions. Self-segregating and checking on each other daily was a matter of mental survival. There were times where I had to walk away from my desk in tears of pure anger because of things white coworkers would say. Thankfully, I’m no longer there. I definitely recommend that black women try to look for jobs in environments where you see others who look like you.
—Lauron Thomas, Facebook
“One of the employees came up to me to tell me that they had cameras in the store.”
I worked in retail a couple years ago, and part of our training was to go into other stores to see how promptly customers are greeted. I went into this one store and browsed around for about eight minutes before one of the employees came up to me to tell me that they had cameras in the store.
“He got extremely offended, and said, ‘How do you think it makes me feel that the most attractive girl in this bar doesn’t like men?'”
My girlfriend had just started her new job. She’s a bartender, and this creepy older dude kept hitting on her. When she finally told him that she was gay and that she had a girlfriend, he got extremely offended, and said, “How do you think it makes me feel that the most attractive girl in this bar doesn’t like men?”
—Kristen Ciambella, Facebook
“My height makes every guy think I can’t possibly do things on my own.”
I’m a server. My height (5’3″) makes every guy think I can’t possibly do things on my own. Like it’s crazy I can lift a tray with so many plates. So when I’m reaching for something or lifting massive amounts of plates with one hand over my head, I laugh. At the people who believe women can’t do what men do easily. At the people who tell me to “be careful not to break a nail.” At the people who clearly have no idea I’m a strong, independent woman, and I’ve got this.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.