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  • Writer's pictureJulia Makhubela

The subtle discrimination in today's workplace causes Emotional Tax


Legislations have changed, and movements like #MeToo and #GoogleWalkOut are putting additional social pressure on organisations to be inclusive. This intolerance for overt discrimination has not, however, changed the underlying attitudes. As such there’s subtle discrimination in today’s workplace:


  • A black female is promoted to a senior management position but not given stretch work.

  • A pregnant job applicant notices a hiring manager avoids eye contact with her during her interview.

  • A male condescendingly explains something in a manner that suggests he thinks his female colleague can’t possibly know what he’s talking about.


These subtle day-to-day experiences – that do not explicitly violate social norms and expectations for inclusion – cause Emotional Tax. The NGO “Catalyst” define Emotional Tax as the state of being on guard—consciously preparing to deal with potential bias or discrimination. Empirical evidence from a Cambridge University study shows that this Emotional Tax damages self-confidence which prevents victims from achieving their full potential.


It is therefore important to deliberately design the employee experience that enables real inclusion and to deliberately design learning experiences that enable people to confront and let go of their biases. This is easier to say than to do, it requires commitment and hard work.


Further Reading:

  • Cambridge University Article: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/industrial-and-organizational-psychology/article/subtle-discrimination-in-the-workplace-a-vicious-cycle/

  • Catalyst Report https://www.catalyst.org/research/day-to-day-experiences-of-emotional-tax-among-women-and-men-of-color-in-the-workplace/



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