It’s Time to Give Black Women Grace

What Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka can teach us about mental health in the workplace.

On Naomi, Simone, and working from home.

Two days ago, Simone Biles withdrew from the Olympics’ gymnastics team event, according to NBC News. In a press conference, Biles said, “Put mental health first because if you don’t then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to.” This follows Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open earlier this summer. Osaka was scrutinized by the press for this. Media personalities like Piers Morgan and Oliver Brown called her “narcissistic” and “diva.”

Using their visibility and platforms, Biles and Osaka are pushing conversations about mental health to the forefront. Moreover, they are challenging the idea of the traditional workplace, which has changed since the pandemic.

In a world of remote work, the rules of the workplace have shifted. Now, employees must have their cameras on 8 hours a day, their backgrounds must be “distraction-free,” they must have reliable internet access, and they must adhere to stringent dress codes.

Some workers believe these rules need to be changed. R. Dallon Adams mentioned, “In the traditional office, employees log on for the workday via company-provided internet connectivity.” Yet, in the remote office, workers are expected to foot the bill.

This puts poor workers, who are more likely to experience audio issues, at a disadvantage. The same goes for the expectation of workers to be on camera for 8 hours a day in environments that are “distraction-free.” In multigenerational homes, which many families of color share, distractions are more likely.

Furthermore, workers from marginalized backgrounds find code switching more difficult while working from home, according to BBC. “Workers with marginalised [sic] identities bear the added burden of managing how their colleagues perceive their personal spaces, which have unavoidably entered into view,” they wrote.

For some, it is time to re-evaluate our WFH policies. On Twitter, one user wrote that Biles and Osaka’s decisions should serve as a reason to kill the expectation that Black women be on camera for the entire work day. The sentiment is that, ultimately, it should not matter how the work is getting done, as long as the work is getting done.

As someone who has toggled between remote and essential work throughout the pandemic, I have faced the challenges of both. Yet, with remote work, these challenges are often overlooked or chalked up to “the nature of the beast.”

​When my employers banned virtual backgrounds, showed little empathy for audio issues I was experiencing, and constantly pulled me aside to discuss my work environment, it became an added layer of stress for an already stressful job. As a poor Black woman with mental challenges, something has to change. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below. ​~

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