Holding Space to Rejuvenate and Reclaim Flow: MLT’s Response to Black Fatigue
By: Day Rankin
MLT is proud to serve a community of more than 10,000 Alumni. This number reflects 20+ years of experience elevating the career and economic trajectories of people of color. In celebrating this milestone, MLT recognizes that our work doesn’t stop at diversity recruiting. Our program growth magnifies the need to strengthen belonging, retention, and engagement among people of color in the workplace.
Helping Black, Latin, and Native American professionals get into high-trajectory jobs isn’t enough. They must also feel included, with the confidence that they belong.” – John Rice, MLT Founder & CEO
In 2020, MLT conducted a two-part research study, titled Voices from the Workplace (VFTW), to better understand the lived experiences of Black, Latin, and Native American professionals at work. The study revealed survey results from MLT Alumni working at hundreds of companies across the nation. The VFTW essay series expanded on the economic and psychological costs of being one of few at work. For Black workers, this experience can lead to a phenomenon known as “Black Fatigue.”
What is Black Fatigue?
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) consultant, Mary-Frances Winters, coined the term based on her research and analysis. Through focus groups, Winters collected feedback from a wide variety of Black employees. The employees’ sentiments on workplace culture and environment carried repeated tones of exhaustion; this exhaustion stemmed from feeling undervalued or disrespected, like an outsider, or burdened by constantly being on guard.
Winters wrote Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit as a direct response. The book highlights the impact of: systemic racism, microaggressions, imposter syndrome, implicit biases, and social injustices. More often than not, these inequities lead to burnout and can impact one’s overall health.
The results from MLT’s Voices from the Workplace research study only validate Mary-Frances Winters’ discovery. In anonymous surveys, 89% of MLT Alumni said they have been the only person of color in their workplace. The Alums also shared their feelings behind going at it alone:
I currently am the only Black person in my entire company and it is the most exhausting experience of my life.”
It’s exhausting. I expected that two masters degrees would prove how smart I am. Yet, I was mistaken for an administrative assistant, more than once.”
I am the only Black person in my company. I have no real mentors or support systems, and have had to fight for every single promotion and am only rewarded when I fit a woman of color stereotype that management can benefit from.”
Read more excerpts in: Going at it Alone: The Burden of Being the “Only” or One of Few
Resources for Reclaiming Flow
The voices behind those stories did not fall on deaf ears. Instead, they created opportunities for self-reflection and course correction. As a response, MLT developed its Racial Equity at Work program to help organizations create more inclusive workspaces. There are now 75 partners participating in Black Equity at Work and Hispanic Equity at Work.
The Alumni Engagement team also responded with resources. The team prioritized a four-part wellness series for Alumni– with one dedicated to rejuvenation from Black Fatigue.
“We identified the need for a resource based on Alumni feedback from 2020 and 2021. They are often the only or one of few Black, Latin, or Native Americans in their organizations,” said Maria Razo, Director of Alumni Engagement at MLT. “Women especially have less sense of belonging at work. The pandemic has also been a more stressful period.”
In February during Black History Month, the team hosted Reclaiming Flow: Rejuvenation from Black Fatigue. Zee Clarke, a mindfulness and breathwork coach, guided MLT Alums through the intimate midday session.
Zee opened up about her own experiences as a Black woman in corporate spaces– thriving, yet feeling a constant burden of being the ‘only’. She also led interactive mindfulness techniques during MLT’s session, including: breath work, physical postures, desk yoga, and a safe space for self-reflection. MLT Alums and participants left with higher energy levels, a toolkit, and mantras to approach work with less stress and deeper breaths.
MLT’s programs and events exist to change employer practices and support the economic and mental well-being of Black, Latin, and Native American professionals. Through both Racial Equity at Work and dedicated resources, these 10,000+ Alumni can reclaim flow and feel more confident in their belonging.
Learn more about what you and your organization can do to foster inclusive, equitable, anti-racist workplaces. Get involved by joining the MLT Community.
Read next: The Infuriating Journey from Pet to Threat: How Bias Undermines Black Women at Work