By Ciara Speller
Requina Barnes, a licensed social worker and owner of Strength Inc. is quite familiar with the long-term effects of enduring racial and gender discrimination for black women in the workplace. Barnes specializes in coaching black women through occupational obstacles and helping them cope with side effects from workplace discrimination.
“Stress manifests into sometimes physical and medical conditions,” Barnes said. “There is research around black women that have cancer or migraines or some form of medical issue, and usually if you go into their history, they have experienced some form of discrimination in the workplace.”
“Black Women Talk about Workplace Stress and How They Cope” published in the “Journal of Black Studies” explains that black women being faced with workplace discrimination often chose not to address their situation out of fear of backlash or having their feelings invalidated by their counterparts. Barnes said that black women have caused severe damage to their mental and physical state by not vocalizing their stressors and emotions.
Veronica Y. Womack, Ph.D., suggested that black women must protect their health when dealing with workplace stress. She urged black women to identify what they cannot control. By becoming aware of one’s thoughts, emotions, and physical reactions at the moment of a negative experience, Womack said she believes that individuals can add space between the incident and a response.
Womack encouraged women to reach out to other women (family, colleagues, friends). She advised women to seek professional counseling if stress reaches a level that cannot be controlled by venting to others. She also suggested that women under consistent stress should prioritize self-care. They should pay attention to diet, exercise regularly and engage in activities that they find relaxing to create a balance.
The study, “Black Women Talk About Workplace Stress and How They Cope,” also reported on the pressures black women endure when they are continuously targeted for their race and gender in a work environment. It found black women suffer from higher levels of stress than that of their counterparts. The journal states that researchers have established that black women have shorter lifespans than other racial groups, suffer from higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, emotional distress and give birth to more babies who die in infancy.
“Racial discrimination takes a physical toll on black women and contributes to things like higher infant mortality, lower birth weight babies, breast care,” said Kimberly McLarin, critically acclaimed novelist and Graduate Program Director for Popular Fiction and Publishing at Emerson College.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey in 2013 that showed about one-third (36 percent) of infant deaths were due to preterm-related causes. Babies who do survive premature birth can have breathing issues, intestinal and digestive problems, and bleeding in their brains. Long-term effects of premature birth may include developmental delays and a lower performance rate in the classroom.
The CDC noted that stress and depression amongst pregnant women are two of the leading factors that trigger premature births and birth-related complications. Low socio-economic status (a measure that includes income and occupation) also plays a major role birth complications.
“All the terrible health care outcomes that black women have are not just economic issues, they are directly related to the stress of being a black woman in this society. It’s a very real thing. It’s a sociological issue that has physical, emotional, financial, economic impact on black women,” said McLarin.