As COVID vaccinations gain traction, companies are now moving forward with a steady return to the office, or in the alternative, a hybrid work environment. In a recent discussion with CNBC, employees expressed resentment for the inevitable office return, with some scheduled for as early as June 2021.

“We were told we would start going back to the office in June,” Melissa Gill, 29, told CNBC, “and I am just not ready. It’s going to be really hard to adjust going back to the office.” 

After a year at home, workers are struggling with leaving their families, and for many, the inconvenience of an office commute. Predictions of inter-office conflicts over return-to-work policies, between staff and executives are expected, amongst other contributors to workplace unrest. Whatever the discomfort may be, tensions are gradually on the rise.

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Not often discussed, however, is the effects of ongoing social tensions and its impact on the newly resurrected office environment. In a brief interview with executive coach L. Michelle Smith, she discusses the foreseeable microaggressions that may occur within the workplace, and how Black women and other women of color can combat these experiences, in an effort to move forward in professional leadership and life.  

What are some of the different types of microaggressions that professional women of color should be prepared for as they gear up for a return to the physical office?

“Microaggressive bullying can come in many different forms, from work-jacking to mansplaining or whitesplaining. Work-jacking is when someone steals your work in broad daylight. Mansplaining or ‘whitesplaining’ happens when your ideas are hijacked in meetings. Both usually happen in front of others, so it is humiliating and undermining.”

L. Michelle Smith

What are three quick tips on how women of color can handle microaggressive bullies (in the forms of “Karens” or “Kyles” in the workplace (whether virtual or in-person)?

“1) Lay the groundwork before it happens. You know that it will happen, so why not be ready?  It’s important that you build a personal brand inside and outside of your workplace so that if you are the victim of a work jacking, the majority of the people know better. If you haven’t done the work ahead of time, chances are the jacking will be successful.

2) When you are mansplained or whitesplained in a meeting, address it head on with grace and poise. Speak directly to the offender, thank them for recapping and summarizing your idea so well, and offer for them to meet you offline to see if there is an opportunity to collaborate.  Colleagues will see that you will stand up for yourself, and Kyle or Karen will likely not try it again.

3) Karens can be blocked online and off, so just know that she can only do as much as you tolerate. If her access is limited to you, she has fewer chances to offend. If she outranks you and is in your reporting chain, call on other high-ranking allies for advice and engagement. Lastly, if this is consistent behavior, move on. There is no need to remain in a toxic environment, especially when there are other companies that will pay you more and give you the title you deserve, locally or not.”

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No Thanks, The Remix is available exclusively on Amazon worldwide and offers free access to an online course valued at $2500 for absolutely free beginning June 10. Michelle Smith empowers professional women to lead like rockstars, and advises the companies they want to lead at the intersection of tech, culture and business.  She is the CEO of no silos communications, llc., a media and consulting company that blends leadership development and strategic communications to support women with their leadership aspirations.  She has supported executives at American Express, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, AT&T, Mary Kay, CNN, Warner Media, Zapier.  A certified executive & personal coach, author and speaker, L. Michelle is a former corporate leader, a serial entrepreneur and the creator, executive producer and host of The Culture Soup Podcast®, which is heard in 38 countries.

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