Diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workforce are a practice. You can have a very diverse workforce, but if members of your diverse team don’t understand or care for one another, you do not have inclusion. In that case, systems to achieve ambitious goals can break down rapidly. When fundamental systems of how we do our work—in concert with the systems of how we understand each other as a team—break down, that disintegration can tip everyone into a workplace that is uninspiring at best and toxic at worst.
An overlooked tributary of D&I work is “emotional labor,” the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job. Like the broader umbrella term DE&I, emotional labor, too, has many branches to explore. One of these is the activity of “othering questions.” When devoid of authentic care, this activity can result in net negative emotional labor from the person being asked the questions. Othering happens when, at the individual level, a person of the dominant culture demands information about the non-dominant person out of “curiosity” or out of “trying to get to know the person.” Read this companion article on othering to learn more.
I want to explore emotional labor, and specifically, “othering questions” together with you, followed by some examples of how to manage emotional labor within your workforce. The point isn’t to eradicate emotional labor from your office completely (that’s impossible) but to weave into your office culture methods for interacting with emotional labor that creates a net positive for everyone in your organization. Let’s dig in!
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