Clocking Out: Survival Mode is Not Working for Black Women at Work  

Black women rule the workforce and have the highest labor force participation in comparison to all women, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.  

In other words, a higher number of Black women are employed or unemployed and searching for work.   

Breaking down the numbers reveals that Black women make up 60.5 percent in comparison with 56.8 percent for white women – the pandemic didn’t stop Black women (even during the Great Resignation) as their labor force participation rate slightly spiked to 58.8 percent in comparison to 56.2 percent of women.  

The cost, however? Major burnout for Black women across the board.   

Divisive Diversity Efforts 

Black women are overworked and underpaid and CNBC reports that Black women are in “survival mode” while at work and despite diversity efforts it’s almost too little too late.  

“Women in the workplace have been very vocal about the inequities and discrimination they face on the job, from gender pay gaps to a lack of child-care support,” according to the article. “Black women in particular experience specific challenges at the intersection of racial and gender discrimination.”  

Sacha Thompson, executive coach for DEI practitioners (and the founder of the Equity Equation, an inclusive culture transformation boutique DEI firm) told the Michigan Chronicle that she began her business in September 2020 right amid the pandemic.  

“I was leaving a corporate job due to burnout,” she said, adding that she was in a diversity role and was in a “strange place” of educating people about diversity and inclusion efforts while experiencing racism firsthand.  

“[It was] by the people leading diversity and inclusion – sadly it’s very common,” she said adding that the burnout for her was the daily work battle. “A majority of my time and energy was being in survival mode and trying to figure out how to navigate very toxic waters.”  

Thompson said from developing an ulcer, losing her hair and “feeling helpless” she decided to take the leap and leave her job. Now in the throes of her new career in her consulting practice, she talks about self-care and wellness and how people feel their cups.  

“I give tips or I am talking about my experience – things I’m dealing with or have dealt with,” she said of her online segment, adding that it’s important to work from a place of fullness. “I’m in a much better place — part of that is because I am very intentional in what I do and what I take on. I am much more attuned to what triggers me and what causes stress; I am very mindful of the time that I take in the day for myself and don’t feel guilt for that.”  

Aside from DEI initiatives, handling multiple responsibilities has forced many Black mothers to face tough workplace decisions while handling childcare, especially during the pandemic.   

According to Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit public policy organization, Brookings Institution, Black women have lost more jobs amidst the pandemic because Black mothers are more than likely to be raising children in school districts with online-only reopening plans.    

The organization also noted that Black mothers are more than likely less able to have a partner to share childcare responsibilities, take a pause from their employment, work from home or outsource childcare.  

Get Proactive About Your Space 

Jasmine Patton, Southfield Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, told the Michigan Chronicle that she doesn’t think there is ever a “finish line” to burnout for women, especially Black women.  

“You need to be proactive in protecting your piece on a daily basis. How can I be intentional about micromanaging in that space? It’s wise to use the wisdom of those who have come before us – I’m a firm believer of tapping into strength from God and pivoting in the process,” Patton said, adding that she knows many Black women even in her own family, who were hard workers and that transcends generations. “We come from women who had careers and serve in the service industry. … we took care [of people] personally and professionally.”  

Patton said that it’s time to rest in “pivoting your power” and recognizing how to serve while cultivating your role as a leader is all part of the journey.  

“It is important to honor practicing and pivoting in all seasons, especially when you are a leader,” she said, adding that she prevents burnout by taking a couple of minutes away a day to unwind for the moment. “If you get to a place so busy you don’t have time for those micro-moments [you] are contributing to your own burnout. It is important to give yourself the grace to change your schedule and move your priorities.”  

The CNBC article added that companies don’t have the right policies in place to protect or promote Black women, and “it’s leading them to report lower job satisfaction, greater challenges to career mobility and a higher likelihood of quitting for a different job,” according to Black Women Thriving from Every Level Leadership survey.  

“Companies aren’t creating solutions that will help those who sit at this intersection of being a Black person and being a woman,” says Ericka Hines, founder and principal consultant at Every Level Leadership in the article. Diversity, equity and inclusion efforts will “fall short unless you take into account those who are the most affected.”  

According to the 1,431 Black women surveyed, 75 percent of Black women say their organization does not take full advantage of their skills. Also, 63 percent say they do not see a path to advance their career within their current organization, and the overall impact means that 71 percent of the participants would quit for a new job in order to get a pay raise or promotion.  

The opposite of survival mode means to thrive, or “being in a position where you feel like you have vitality, and where you are growing in a way that you want to,” according to the article.  

“In our research, we found that thriving for Black women includes feeling joy about what they’re doing or as a result of what they’re doing,” Hines said in the article.  

“There is a need for colleagues who consider themselves to be allies to be willing to put some of their social capital on the line to advocate on behalf of their Black female peers,” she added in the story. “How are they leaning into allying? How are they lifting them up? How are they going into the office with their Black women colleagues and saying this is a problem?”  

Without structural changes, actionable goals on racial equity and inclusive cultures, Hines says Black women will have to “continue to morph themselves as they navigate the system.”  



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