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From the Archives: What is emotional tax and why should we care about it?


Florence Nyasamo

Going to work, having a successful career and earning a living are all things we desire to do as adults.  We all aspire to work hard and get promotions to support our families and communities.  We look forward to a workplace environment that makes us feel valued, where our voice is part of the team. Feeling different from colleagues as a black women is not a daily feeling one goes through in job situations but it is not until you are faced with an alienating experience at work that makes you question whether it is happening to you because of your gender, race or ethnicity, before you realise just how different you are.

Haven spoken to many ethnic minorities who have expressed they are afraid to share any ideas with their managers, the feel that they 'always have to watch what they say' and that they know they have reached ‘a glass ceiling’, it is clear that this is a big issue in BAME communities. These individuals then do not expect to be promoted at work because they do not see themselves represented in senior positions in their companies. This type of thinking affects one’s performance, well-being and reduces one ability to fully participate at work.

Diversity is something that brings richness to business as it empowers decision makers by giving different perspectives and diverse views for the benefit of the business. It is something that should be widely embraced by organisations. So, what is this that makes ethnic minorities feel different or the experience of unconscious bias and what can businesses do to overcome this obstacle? I recently sat and spoke to a young woman who is one of my mentees, she said ‘I don’t understand  why I am expected to work harder than anyone in my office doing exactly the same job”. It’s a frustration that many minorities in the workplace face and one that I didn’t have a word for until I came across the term ‘Emotional Tax’.

So what is Emotional Tax?

Emotional Tax is the heightened experience of being different from peers at work because of your gender and/or race/ethnicity and the associated detrimental effects on health, wellbeing, and the ability to thrive at work (Catalyst report, 2018).

Evidence has shown that if employee’s performance, health and well-being are affected within the workplace, the overall productivity of the business will be affected. For this reason, it is important to find ways to address this issue for the benefit of all.  The Catalyst report states that 45% of those who felt different because of gender, race and ethnicity had sleep problems compared to 25% in people who didn’t feel different. 54% of people who felt different felt that they had “to be on guard” compared to 34% in those who didn’t feel different.

Tackling emotional tax

This feeling can easily be overcome by making a working environment that one feels safe and confident that they can voice their concerns, without them thinking that their job security will be undermined.  

But how can organisations and leaders achieve and eliminate Emotional Tax within their workforce? This can be achieved in numerous ways but most importantly by evaluating the culture of the company, having a diverse workforce, building trust, embracing our global world and having an environment that ethnic minorities, different religions and different sexual orientations can have honest conversation with clear intentions of breaking down barriers.

In all, inclusion within the workplace, feeling valued and fostering a sense of belonging all goes into tackling Emotional Tax.



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