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For many Black employees, working from home is a refuge from racism

Only 3% of Black employees who work from home want to return full-time in-person, a survey found.

SEATTLE — According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 13.4% of Americans continue to work from home or telework amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A majority of them have no desire to return to the office full-time, but that number is particularly high for Black employees. 

A survey by the Slack think tank Future Forum found only 3% of Black employees polled wanted to return to full-time in-person work, compared to 21% of white employees. 

Tisha Held, an auditor at a large financial institution in Seattle and the only Black woman in her department, said the numbers are not surprising. 

“I think [Black] people, having gone through this past year experiencing the constant cuts from microaggressions and the fatigue of living through the pandemic, are just tired,” she said. 

Held said working from home has offered employees of color a refuge from workplace racism, including everything from subtle racist jabs to being overlooked for promotions. 

“After having experienced some level of relief, they don’t want to go back,” she said.

The Future Forum survey found that when the pandemic hit and increasing numbers of Black employees began working from home, their ability to manage stress soared 64%, while their sense of belonging in the workplace jumped 50%. 

Held said working from home allowed her to be her “whole self” in a way that she feels she cannot be in the office. 

“I don't think people realize that as a Black person, Black woman, that there's a lot to consider when you just go and sit in the space. There's already an idea of who you are as you walk into the room,” she said. 

“You have to always be conscious of how you present to other people. ‘Am I being too loud? Am I fitting into very specific stereotypes?’”

The Future Forum survey concluded that employers can help ease the burden on Black employees and other employees of color by embracing flexible work. 

“While flexible work alone is not a panacea, it is an essential starting point for moving away from many of the structural inequities that pervade the U.S. workplace,” the survey read. 

Held agrees and believes that's just the beginning. 

“There's diversity in our jobs, but there's a lack of inclusion,” she said. “Stop just looking at the surface, but doing more self-interrogation. And then figure out what those gaps are to push past it.”