Othering in the workplace: the steps the Other takes to prove themselves and the group they represent
Let me start this post by clarifying “the group [the Other] represents.” I don’t mean this to be understood that the Other is willingly taking up the spokesperson role for whatever minority group of which they are a part (“minority group” here is meant in the context of American society and generally includes anyone not male/masculine, cisgender, white, Christian, straight – the dominant, hegemonic norm by which the rest of us are assessed and othered). However, regardless of the fact that very few of us volunteer for this spokesperson role, this role that requires us to go above and beyond to prove that, believe it or not, the othered group to which we belong do not deserve whatever absurd stereotyping placed upon us, we end up doing the spokesperson work anyway.
The prompt for this post was a series of unrelated workplace conversations that held a common theme – those who are Othered (for example: women and racial and ethnic minorities) have a pressure to constantly police themselves and others within their group to prevent or correct what we’ve internalized as negative stereotypes that put us at a disadvantage with those in charge of our promotions, raises, bonuses, and overall employment status. And let us not forget about how intersections of minority statuses (see: Patricia Hill Collins’ and Kimberle Crenshaw’s work) serve to add layers of pressure to perform in ways that proactively counter those stereotypes. Sounds exhausting, right? It is.
Let us speak about what this means for women in the workplace. I feel most comfortable speaking about this experience as I am a white woman in a male-dominated industry. Women are typed as emotional, which has many implications. It means we are impetuous with decisions, for one. We have to work doubly hard to check our emotions if we want to be taken seriously, that is, act like a man. However, it’s not that men lack emotions or emotional expressions, but rather that the hegemonic ideology has defined the emotions that men express more often in the workplace than women (anger, aggressiveness, abrasiveness) as acceptable. Well, acceptable for men, but not for women. If a women displays those same emotions too often, she’s a ballbuster, a b*tch, etc. It’s at this point of realization for us women that we realize we just can’t win.
This is a massive emotional and mental drain on anyone who has at least one oppressed status, and must addressed as a contributing factor to the attrition of many types of people from the STEM fields amongst other career paths in the U.S. Now, this post is far from a complete analysis of what is going on in American workplaces, but I do hope it is enough to get people to think about what it is like to be the default representation for millions of others who share your sex or gender, skin tone, religion, sexual orientation simply because you are the only person in the room with that status.