Wednesday, May 12, 2010

African American Women, Microaggressions, and Workplace Bullying

These articles were distributed to several people via the Ruthe Boyea Women's Center at CCSU. I think they are very interesting, pertinent articles about the workplace and our understanding of workplace bullying, abusive conduct, and intimidation.

Helping Black Women to Navigate Troubled Waters African American women at predominantly white colleges and universities are parched for support and validation that what they're experiencing is real.
When Christina Davis was in her first year as assistant director of residential life at the predominantly white University of Vermont, a game of Capture the Flag raised problems at a camp for resident assistants (RAs). Capture the Flag can get rough and physical. Afterward a white RA complained that black graduate student Daphne Wells had attacked her.
Davis investigated and concluded that no attack had taken place. The white RA charged favoritism by one African American woman to another and took her complaint higher up. Dr. Stacey Miller, director of residence life and Davis’s supervisor at the time, called them together to discuss the deep difference in perceptions.
Did I intimidate you, or do you feel intimidated by me? The two are not the same. “At the end of the day, I see the world very differently than she does,” Davis told WIHE.

Racism is a permanent part of American life. Microaggressions— subtle insults, sometimes unconscious—are common; 90% of black women say they’ve experienced discrimination, 10% remember being called “nigger” and 69% report having met bias or discrimination based on gender.
Micro-aggressions can leave the recipient wondering if something really happened. “You think you’re going crazy,” Miller said. Not every slight is about race or gender, but many are. Naming your truth brings in the sanity factor.
Wells collected students’ stories about their experiences for her master’s degree research. “Hey, we’re all struggling,” Miller said. She, Davis and Wells discussed how to better support black women to achieve professional success at NASPA annual conference in Chicago in March.
“Girl . . . You in Danger! Navigating the Shark Infested Waters of Student Affairs/Higher Education” is the subtitle of the presentation they put together two years ago, presented twice so far at NASPA and twice at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education.
They’re almost always overwhelmed by the numbers who show up each time they offer it. African American women at predominantly white colleges and universities are parched for support and validation that what they’re experiencing is real.
Today Wells is a doctoral student at Morgan State University MD. Davis is director of student life at Whitman College, Princeton University NJ, and starting a doctoral program at Rutgers. And Miller is still at the University of Vermont, “Big Momma” and mentor to African American students and staff.
Success at what cost?
Wells drives a stick-shift car. When heavy traffic makes her constantly move it back and forth, her arm begins to hurt. It’s similarly exhausting to have to shift behavior from setting to setting, group to group and even minute to minute— conversing naturally in the hallway, then lowering the volume when a white person walks by. Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden popularized the term shifting in their book Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America (HarperCollins 2003).
Behavior changes with context. Most black women report that they’ve shifted to fit in or gain acceptance by white people—changing how they speak, toning down mannerisms and avoiding controversial topics in favor of topics they think interest whites. It’s very tiring. At home you can be relaxed and comfortable, but if you’re large, loud and gregarious you’d better tone it down at work.
“It’s really about making other people comfortable,” Miller said. Many people experience this, including many white women, but it’s especially frequent for black women because of stereotyping. “I’m always seen as intimidating, regardless of how I walk in the room.”
Many also give up parts of themselves to support the success of black men. They downplay their abilities and strengths to make the man look good. Sometimes it results from self-doubt and pressure to fulfill traditional gender roles. Another factor is whether to be a good ally for the sake of all.
“One of you represents all of you,” Davis said. If one African American comes late to a meeting or isn’t prepared, it sets up negative expectations for all. So women have a positive motive to help their men succeed, even if it means not getting the credit. “You’re not always the one in the spotlight but the one doing the work in the background,” she said.
Because they stick out in a mostly white crowd, black women feel pressure to work toward social invisibility, conform and avoid mistakes. To complicate matters, while they’re pushed to become less conspicuous socially, they must struggle to be visible professionally.
They’re likely to be excluded from peer networks and overlooked for promotions. They face less cutthroat competition than in corporate life, but plenty of isolation and lack of support. If they succeed a white man in office, subordinates may question their authority. If there’s another black woman anywhere on campus, everyone confuses the two.
If they’re on faculty, their research subjects may be marginalized. They’re doubly marginalized in student affairs, which is lower than it deserves on the college totem pole. Miller said of student affairs, “We’re not the head on the dog, but we’re not just the tail.”
Unearthly expectations
“Black don’t crack” refers to the tendency of dark skin to wrinkle less with age than light skin. Looking young is a mixed blessing for women in leadership. People question whether you belong in leadership because of how you look.
At age 31, Davis is often mistaken for a student. Last year, new at Whitman College and attending freshman orientation, she was asked if she was a freshman. No, she had to explain, she was the director of student life—the one in charge. “I belong at the big kids’ table,” she said.
Straight white men carry the look of leadership without effort, while black women of equal status and competence struggle for credibility. Miller introduces herself as “Dr.” to prevent pushback. Many studies of unconscious bias confirm that black women need to do more to be considered just as good.
Students of color seek them out. It’s a fine line to figure out how deeply to become engrossed in students’ lives and still maintain an administrative or supervisory role. Rich white kids expect lots of attention because they’re paying high tuition and feel entitled, chewing up more time unless clear boundaries are established early.
While students come to them in droves, they’re isolated and peripheral to colleagues. They get put on lots of committees as token representatives. “We have to work harder. Can we work harder and still have a social life?” Davis asked.
Last on the list
Some sacrifice is good, like taking time to support students or pursue an advanced degree. But factors specific to African American women intensify the constant balancing act—shared by most women and many men—how far to sacrifice self and personal life for professional advancement.
“We have a tendency to work ourselves to the ground,” Miller said. Women tend to take on other people’s needs and put themselves last on the list.
At their workshops at NASPA and NCORE, they offer a toolbox to help African American women deal with these issues in their professional lives. When time allows, they make the sessions participatory and use breakout groups. “It takes on a new life each time we present it. The good value comes from listening to other women’s stories,” Davis said.
They also hope other women of color, white women and men will attend, especially if they supervise black women or work with some as colleagues. Their message to these individuals is that sometimes black women need to be supported a little differently from other women.
Understand their need for mentoring, which they may not always request, and that critical incidents do happen. “When you notice a black woman, understand that her experiences are subtly different from yours,” Miller said.
Toolbox for professional success
Women of color stick out like a sore thumb on a predominantly white campus, so make it the best thumb ever! Their toolbox grows out of their experiences and those of friends and colleagues, as well as ideas emerging from the sessions:
• Recruit mentors. Mentors matter—formal, informal and peer. Take mentoring wherever you can find it. Your mentors don’t have to look like you; they can be anyone with whom you’re comfortable.
• Build and use a network. Your network can offer you day-to-day support and a sounding board when you’re facing larger decisions, like whether to change jobs or career. “It makes you feel like you matter,” Miller said.
• Find allies. Like mentors, they may be women or men of any race or ethnicity. “You will be surprised about the people who will support you if you reach out,” Miller said.
• Seek out professional development. It’s easy to shortchange yourself; take every chance you can get. If tight budgets keep you from traveling to conferences, look for development opportunities on campus.
• Join or form a sisterhood circle. Miller’s is made up of women of color, including Asians and Latinas. Each meeting has a topic—sometimes one like hair, food or family— that wouldn’t safely arise in a wider professional setting.
• Read, read, read. “One of my frustrations has been not having the language to articulate how I’ve been marginalized,” she said. Following the scholarship related to your experiences will help you give voice to what’s happening.
• Build knowledge, skills and awareness to confront critical incidents. When you get ambushed you can get stuck in the moment, unsure of how to respond. Plan out your strategies to address situations such as profiling, and have the courage and conviction to apply them. Sometimes circumstances force you to be the “angry black woman” on campus but often there’s another way to speak up effectively if you look hard enough.
Expected to be the resident black voice on everything, you can educate white colleagues by choosing whether to engage. Unless the topic pulls your heartstrings, you can say, “I don’t know. Why don’t you look that up?” Talk to your supervisor about it too.
• Create outlets and healthy living. Have a life. Read, watch television or do whatever helps you to balance. Too often, the last thing you take care of is you.
Be your authentic self, Davis added. She wears her hair natural with long dreadlocks and a nose ring. “When I enter, my race enters with me,” she said.
You need not be grateful to have a job. If your school doesn’t value you, maybe it’s time to move on. “When the school gets more from you than you get from it, it’s time to go,” Miller said. Someone else will value you.
If you’ve built a record of leadership and now your main role is getting coffee, use your time in that role to build connections and networks for when you leave because you’ll probably have to leave anyway. Teach someone how to get coffee, for after you’re gone.
One NASPA participant chose to progress in her career by moving outside the US, getting her first senior post in the United Arab Emirates. That gave her the credentials for a job back in North America.
Whether you stay or go, remember that you’re not crazy and you’re not alone. Reach out for support. 
·        Bullying on Campus: How to Identify, Prevent, Resolve ItA whopping 70% of targets leave the organization, resulting in costs for turnover plus for workers comp, disability and legal issues. 

Lamont Stallworth  Workplace bullying is a hot topic in higher education, judging by the overfl ow crowd that spilled into the aisles and out the doorway of the panel session on designing and implementing anti-bullying and faculty incivilities programs, held at the CUPA-HR conference in Las Vegas in October.
Surprised by the turnout, presenting organizer Lamont Stallworth asked participants why they had attended. Some had been targets of bullying or had friends who were, and some were HR employees working on active bullying cases.
Stallworth, a professor in the Institute of Human Resources and Employment Relations at Loyola University Chicago, is also founder and chair of the Center for Employment Dispute Resolution in Chicago. The panel also featured Christine Newhall,senior VP of the American Arbitration Association in Boston, and Toni Robinson, ombudsperson at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Together, they discussed how to identify, resolve and prevent bullying from becoming a force on campus.
What is bullying?
“Defining workplace bullying is like defining beauty or pornography,” said Stallworth. “You know it when you see it.” He defines it as “behavior that threatens, intimidates, humiliates or isolates people at work, or undermines their reputation or job performance.” It can range from subtle or unconscious slights to obvious and intentional emotional abuse, and it can be an isolated incident or systematic.
Sometimes it’s the nonverbal cues. “Their words may be fine, but the ‘micro-inequities’ add up,” he said. It’s the little things, the “micro-aggressions” that aren’t in your face but take place behind your back.
And sometimes it’s more blatant hostility—such as cyber bullying, berating or belittling someone, insulting or putting someone down, yelling or cursing, spreading malicious rumors, impeding or sabotaging someone’s work, or delivering excessively harsh job performance criticism.
Isolation is another form of bullying, especially in academe, where employees already work in silos. Detrimental actions include not copying someone on emails, excluding them from meetings, giving them the silent treatment, intentionally leaving the room when someone enters, and failing to return their phone calls or emails.
There are mental and physical health repercussions for targets of bullying. Depression is a frequent result: 30% of targets experience post-traumatic stress disorder. And witnesses of bullying also report psychological distress.
Bullying isn’t always at face value. “How many cases of bullying have underlying issues, such as race, gender or sexual orientation?” asked Stallworth. “People seeing a new face have different expectations. And the problems are primarily with white males.”
Bullying on campus
“University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small. University politics make me long for the simplicity of the Middle East,” Henry Kissinger once famously joked.
What makes higher education so a ripe for bullying? It starts with the egos. Higher education hires on expertise, so people think they’re experts on everything, said Stallworth. “The game of academe is proving how smart you are.”
Academe is also a very solitary profession, creating an “every person for themselves” culture. And there’s a climate of tolerance; academe tolerates a lot of things others wouldn’t, he said. In addition, faculty members can use students as tools to get at others, such as on dissertation committees.
Why don’t bystanders and witnesses stand up and do something? Not everyone has tenure, and others don’t want to rock the boat or risk becoming targets themselves. Some want the target’s job.
In addition to the psychological effects of marginalization, the economic ramifi cations of bullying are great. It interferes with workplace performance and productivity, strains departments, contributes to a negative culture and climate and increases turnover.
A whopping 70% of targets leave the organization, resulting in costs for turnover plus for workers comp, disability and legal issues. In 2000 the average cost to defend an EEOC case was $96,000. “The most vital organ in the organization’s body is the pocketbook,” said Stallworth. Economic consequences alone might be enough to move a school to action to design and apply policies to prevent and resolve workplace bullying.
Solutions for schools
Early intervention by administrators is fundamental to eradicate bullying. Training deans and chairs on the laws and implications of bullying is crucial, as is training on how to provide empathy for targets.
Leaders need to demand an anti-bullying culture and workplace.
Be proactive through training and developing an organizational anti-bullying policy, including: 
  • Statement of commitment to eliminating bullying
  • Institutional definitions of bullying
  • Duties/accountability of administrators
  • Flexible reporting procedures and communication channels
  • Options on whom to contact: HR, an ombudsperson or a special appointee
  • A procedure for contacts
  • Campus-wide training and information blitz
  • Monitoring
  • • A disciplinary process
  • • Using internal conflict management systems Working with an external arbitrator is one option. 
The American Arbitration Association is a fact-finding organization that offers an independent, neutral thirdparty perspective. “We get the facts so people can start communicating,” said Newhall. It offers different levels of service, from fact-finding to mediating to arbitration. Its mission is to educate workers and employers, and to resolve conflicts.
Installing a university ombudsperson is another tool against bullying. The post offers an independent, confidential, neutral and informal resource for faculty, staff and students to turn to for advice on dealing with problems on campus. Robinson said at MIT they work with anybody and everybody on campus. “We teach people how to say things in a better way, to get better results from people.”
They explore the issues, the stakeholders, the rules and the resources, giving the employee “responsible options” and helping them to weigh the pros and cons. Ombudspeople help them use leverage to get a resolution and advocate for fair process. They’ll even act as “shuttle diplomats” between the target and “the alleged dirty doer,” said Robinson.
The ombudsperson is not a “place of notice,” so everything is off the record. Telling the ombudsperson is not telling the organization. But if someone wants to go that route, the office can provide information on how to do it.
This independent resource is especially helpful because employees don’t always have faith in HR, she said, believing HR acts in the best interest of the organization, not necessarily the employee.
On the national level, the proposed National Employment Dispute Resolution Act (NEDRA) is a policy designed to promote using alternate dispute resolutions early in a bullying situation. It would apply to federal contractors and to organizations receiving federal funds, each of whom would need to have its own organizational-specific policies in place.

Solutions for individuals
If you are a target, start by naming it and legitimizing it.
Then, to bully-proof yourself: 
  • Check your mental and physical health with the professionals.
  • Research your state and federal legal options.
  • Compile data on the economic impact of the bullying.
  • Start a search for a new job.
  • Finally, consult the campus office most appropriate for your situation and decide how to proceed. 
Like in the schoolyard, office bullies go after the weak, the marginalized and the least likely to fight back. But only by standing up to bullies can schools eliminate their negative effect on individual careers and the campus workplace. 

Jacqueline Cobbina-Boivin
Ruthe Boyea Women's Center
1615 Stanley Street
New Britain, CT 06050
Telephone: 860-832-1655
Fax Number: 860-832-1677

Ruthe Boyea Women's Center Mission:
The Ruthe Boyea Women’s Center exists to provide resources, to advocate, to inform, and to support personal development. The Center offers a variety of services for and about women. We sponsor educational and cultural programs designed to promote gender equity, knowledge of women’s rights issues, leadership, and independence. We encourage understanding and cooperation among women of varied socio-economic groups, cultures, ethnic backgrounds, races and sexual orientations.

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