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“Black Jobs”: What Baby Boomers Say That Impact the Workplace

By Jeannine K Brown, CEO, Everyday Lead

The idea that certain jobs belong to specific racial groups is a baseless and harmful stereotype. Yet it persists.

During the recent 2024 presidential debate, presidential candidates made profoundly troubling comments, claiming that "Mexicans are taking Black jobs." They doubled down on racially charged language and the use of the words, "Black jobs" implying certain jobs are for Black people. These statements not only perpetuate harmful stereotypes but also reflect a perspective held by many that is damaging to the workplace, particularly against Black professionals.

The idea that certain jobs belong to specific racial groups reinforces the false notion that Black people are labor and not leaders; inherently less capable of excelling in high cerebral or leadership roles. This stereotype is not only unfounded but also damaging to the career trajectories of countless talented individuals. By suggesting that Mexicans are taking jobs that only belong to Black people, perpetuate division and distract from the real issue: systemic racism and bias in the workplace mirroring the Jim Crow era.

Outdated Language and the Baby Boomer Influence.

Believing in the concept of "Black jobs" implies that there are roles Black people should not or cannot hold. This mindset can lead to discomfort or resistance when a Black man or woman is in a leadership position, sometimes causing individuals to resign or transfer to another department. When Black professionals earn a promotion, have you ever thought they took "your" job or the job of a person of a different race? Such beliefs reflect a deep-seated bias, where some individuals may think that Black professionals only advance due to diversity quotas or affirmative action rather than their qualifications and merit. This perspective not only undermines the achievements of Black professionals but also perpetuates a divisive and unjust work environment.

Some of my favorite people are Baby Boomers, but

The recent debate comments by Trump and Biden reflect an outdated and ignorant perspective that is prevalent among some Baby Boomers. This generational perspective often clings to archaic racial views that are harmful and significantly threaten workplace inclusion and diversity. Trump and Biden's language reminds us that these outdated views persist in our society, hindering progress and perpetuating division within the workplace.

Outdated racial language and attitudes create an unsafe and unwelcoming environment for employees, leading to a lack of psychological safety, which is crucial for a healthy and productive work culture. Baby Boomers must recognize and challenge their biases to foster an inclusive workplace.

These biases have far-reaching implications for Black professionals and other underrepresented groups. Here are some of the key areas affected:

  • Promotions: Fewer Black professionals receive promotions despite having similar or superior credentials due to biased notions about their capabilities. Promotions are often withheld by applying inconsistent and shifting performance standards, which hinders career growth and deprives organizations of diverse leadership perspectives.

  • Work Assignments: Stereotypes influence the work assignments of high-stakes projects, and leadership opportunities are allocated based on biased assumptions about who is most capable.

  • Evaluations and Feedback: Performance evaluations and feedback for Black professionals are often incomplete and imbalanced, fueled by bias and a lack of relationship-building between Black employees and white colleagues and management. Expectations that Black employees should "fit in" or conform to certain oppressive behaviors lead to biased performance feedback. Terms like "angry" or "intimidating", "uppity" and "combative" are used to describe a strong sense of self and confidence further perpetuating stereotypes by failing to provide the transparent and fair success metrics and recognition essential for career growth.

The Role of Merit and Deserving

Merit and deserving are foundational principles in the professional world, yet bias and entitlement often overshadow them. It's crucial to address how some individuals, particularly some white men, perceive themselves as having something taken from them, even when they haven't earned it. This sense of entitlement undermines meritocracy and fairness, as true meritocracy rewards individuals based on their skills, abilities, and contributions, irrespective of race, gender, or any other characteristic. When bias skews the merit evaluation, it harms the affected individuals and undermines workplace integrity. The belief that someone has taken something from them without recognizing their shortcomings or systemic advantages fuels resentment. It perpetuates bias, leading to discriminatory behaviors and policies that further marginalize Black professionals and others.

The Threat to Psychological Safety

A divided workplace is an unsafe workplace. Psychological safety, the belief that one can speak up, make mistakes, and be themselves without fear of negative consequences, is crucial for a healthy work environment. Bias and division erode this safety, leading to:

1. Reduced Trust: Trust among colleagues is essential for effective teamwork. Racial bias breaks down trust, as employees may feel unfairly judged or marginalized based on stereotypes.

2. Increased Conflict: Bias and division can increase interpersonal conflict as misunderstandings and resentment grow. This conflict can detract from productivity and create a hostile work environment.

3. Lower Engagement: Employees who feel unsafe or unfairly treated are less likely to be engaged and committed to their work. This disengagement can lead to higher turnover rates and lower overall morale.

We Can Debunk the Bias of Black Jobs

The comments made during the presidential debate are a stark reminder of the biases plaguing our society and workplaces. By debunking the myth of race-based jobs and addressing the impact of these biases on Black professionals and other marginalized groups, we can work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive work environment. It's time to move beyond stereotypes and focus on merit, fairness, and the true potential of every individual.

Can we dismantle these harmful biases and build a workplace where everyone has the opportunity to thrive based on their abilities and contributions? Is it too late to change our ideologies? Let us commit to using racially neutral language and envisioning anyone and everyone in every leadership role within our organizations. By doing so, we create a future where every individual is valued and has the opportunity to succeed, free from the constraints of outdated and damaging stereotypes and relegating Black people to only specific jobs.

There is no such thing as a Black job, and if you believe there is - you are the problem.

Jeannine K Brown, CEO, Everyday Lead is an expert in psychological safety, workplace culture, and the creator of the term "UnToxic Boss" and the podcast by the same name.

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