How to Heal from Racial Trauma in the Workplace

Minda Harts and Ritu Bhasin smiling on the left, the cover of Minda's book:

by Minda Harts, author of Right Within: How to Heal from Racial Trauma in the Workplace (Seal Press)

According to a recent report on The State of Black Women in Corporate America, “49% of Black women feel that their race or ethnicity will make it harder for them to get a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.” It’s more than a feeling. For my latest book Right Within: How to Heal from Racial Trauma in the Workplace, I interviewed more than 200 women of color in diverse fields. The common through line: Racism had killed the careers they’d originally envisioned for themselves.

These women — like myself — have moved on, often “built back better.” But there are scars covering trauma ranging from blatant racism to microaggressions; the pain of being overlooked for plum assignments; managed by “leaders” who failed to create environments where everyone could thrive. Women of color, particularly BIPOC women, too often are told to keep going, be strong, be grateful. Left untended, those wounds compromise future success and — most important — physical and mental well-being.

In Right Within, I get vulnerable and ask my readers to do so as well, reflecting on racialized traumas in the workplace before offering concrete tools for healing. Some of the important inclusion topics discussed in my book include:

 

  • The compounding impact of mental health challenges amid the pandemic and outbreaks of violence: Recent studies show that women and people of color are at greater risk for depression and anxiety right now than the rest of the population. Racial trauma at work shouldn’t be part of the equation, but it often is.
  • No more denial, no more walking on eggshells: Admitting the full extent of the racialized trauma I experienced at work was one of my biggest challenges in writing this book. Like so many women of color, I had spent a lifetime trying to convince myself that “he didn’t mean it that way” or “it’s not so bad.” Getting real with yourself can be scary – but it’s so worth it.
  • Faith, therapy, and introspection — using all the tools in the toolbox: For Right Within, I interviewed faith leaders from various traditions about finding strength in God and addressing head-on the stigma that can come with seeking help from a therapist.
  • The Affirmation Pyramid: Why and how to implement my five-step process of pause, acknowledge, document, redistribute, and affirm when confronted by racial trauma in the workplace.
  • The Manager’s Pledge: The events of 2020/2021 have forced many employers to acknowledge systemic racism and resolve to do better by their employees. Right Within has tools for employees and managers to make good on those promises, including a “Manager’s Pledge” with specific steps to create a more equitable and supportive workplace.
 

I’ll leave you with one final takeaway from Right Within: “The burden shouldn’t be ours to carry, but we can help each other tell the truth, validate our experiences, and let go of what we can. We can give ourselves space to reaffirm our value first to ourselves, and then to everyone in the boardroom. We need to breathe easier so we can take our rightful place at the table. We deserve to be right within.”

Learn more about healing racial trauma in the workplace in Right Within.

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Dr. Komal Bhasin

Dr. Komal Bhasin, MSW, MHSc, DocSocSci, is bci’s Senior DEI Consultant and Mental Health Expert-in-Residence and an accomplished DEI facilitator, coach and strategist. Komal has over 20 years of experience in providing strategic and advisory guidance and program development across a range of sectors, with a particular concentration in mental health and racial inclusion. Komal is also Founder of Insayva Inc., a social enterprise focused on providing accessible DEI and health equity support to charities and non-profit organizations.

Komal has extensive experience in creating and delivering programming in a range of DEI areas, including unconscious bias, cultural competence, mental health inclusion, psychological safety and allyship. She is passionate about driving transformational change in workplaces and has worked closely with bci clients — corporations, professional services firms, health care providers and educational institutions — to embed cultures of DEI within their organizations.

Komal has provided one-on-one inclusion coaching to hundreds of senior leaders and brings a unique approach that is informed by her background as a therapist. She is able to expertly handle sensitive conversations and situations and works with leaders to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to advance racial/ethnocultural, gender and mental health-related equity across teams and organizations. Komal also offers a performance coaching program designed specifically for BIPOC leaders. This program aims to help BIPOC leaders harness their place, position and identity to thrive in the workplace and beyond. Komal is a qualified administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).

As bci’s Mental Health Expert-in-Residence, Komal offers tremendous expertise around workplace mental health. As a doctoral trained mental health clinician, certified health executive and registered social worker, Komal has assisted organizations looking to advance employee mental health inclusion and well-being through offering programming on inclusive dialogue, anti-stigma, burnout prevention, psychological safety, resilience and self-care. Komal is committed to advancing mental health and wellness across the life course; she currently serves on the board of the Alzheimer’s Society of Ontario and previously served on the board of Children’s Mental Health Ontario and the YMCA of Greater Toronto.

When Komal is not working, you’ll find her painting, cooking or snuggling with her cats.

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