Posted on July 30, 2021

Many Black Women Felt Relieved to Work From Home, Free From Microaggressions. Now They’re Told to Come Back.

Natachi Onwuamaegbu, Washington Post, July 24, 2021

After seven years of corporate life, Mary Smith had a routine: putting extra effort into her hair (so as to not appear too Black) and her demeanor (ditto) and her clothes (you can probably guess).

But once she got a taste of the work-from-home life during the pandemic, Smith knew she could never go back. Her scalp was free from constraining hairstyles, and she could disappear from the screen if a colleague said something insulting.

A few months ago, her employer asked her to begin the transition back to in-person work. So she quit. “I was just very strongly against that,” said the 29-year-old project manager in Irving, Tex.

After the coronavirus sent millions of employees home, many Black women experienced a workday free of the micro- and macroaggressions that followed them at their predominantly White workplaces. They had the privacy to grieve the countless deaths that led to the racial unrest of last summer — without having to pretend to be okay for the comfort of their colleagues. And, naturally, many don’t want to return.

Working from home means missing out on networking and social interactions ingrained in the workday. But many Black women have solved this problem by gathering together into pods, a trend that predates the pandemic. People from a variety of disciplines meet to work alongside each other at a coffee shop, a co-working space or a backyard. These groups break the workday bubble of solitude and allow for community without fake niceties or hair-touching.

In June, Smith started a new virtual job and created a FaceTime co-working group. When she needs to focus or is struggling to find motivation, she texts her group chat and sets up a call. Together, they work mostly in silence for hours on end, pausing for a joke or if they need advice.


Camille Jadé Villegas, a 32-year-old unemployment claim worker in Chicago, never expected to enjoy working from home — she’s always been an extrovert. But the freedom to be herself and have her camera off — so that clients and co-workers don’t immediately know she’s a Black woman — has been electric. In the absence of an office space, she’s created several communities with other Black women: a book club, an exercise group and a healing circle she calls “makeshift therapy.”

“I was forced to be uncomfortable for the sake of financial stability,” she said. “Now I feel safe. I love it.”

In a fall 2020 survey, the Gallup Center on Black Voices found that Black women were less likely than other demographics to feel that they’re a valued member of their team, that they’re treated with respect and that their co-workers treat everyone fairly.


Last year also brought a lot of emotional trauma for Black employees. In May 2020, 28-year-old project specialist Funke Adeniji had been working at home in Silver Spring, Md., for two months. The office hadn’t been her favorite place — as a Black woman, she felt she was expected to be friendly to everyone, look presentable and field inappropriate personal questions. But she didn’t absorb the extent of her freedom until George Floyd’s murder that month. In the ensuing days, weeks, months, she could take a moment to herself between meetings, turn off her camera when she got overwhelmed, ignore texts from colleagues asking her to educate them about race. She didn’t have to pretend to be the happy Black woman. She just got to breathe and be.

“When Philando Castile died, I didn’t take off work, and the hurt that I felt … I just felt like these people don’t care,” said Adeniji, referencing the 32-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by police in 2016 during a Minnesota traffic stop. {snip}

Black women felt uncomfortable in the workplace well before the pandemic, of course. According to the General Social Survey from 2014 to 2018, 14 percent of Black people said they faced discrimination at work because of their sex, race or ethnicity — more than other demographics. A Gallup Center on Black Voices survey from last year found that 24 percent felt discrimination at work.

Black women also have disproportionate child-care burdens compared with other races — they are more likely to be single moms and they’re paid substantially less than White and Asian women. {snip}