Many women, especially Latina and minority women, struggle to set workplace boundaries. There are multiple factors that contribute to this issue, from cultural norms, gender biases, personal insecurities, and external pressures.
Why many minority women struggle to set workplace boundaries
In a Forbes article on “The Importance of Setting Healthy Boundaries”, award-winning coach, author, speaker, Sahar Andrade, shares some of the contributing factors that lead minority women to setting poor workplace boundaries. In the article, Andrade cites issues such as low self-esteem, needing approval from others, learned helplessness or the fear of being rejected or criticized as well as cultural expectations.
“I come from a culture where women especially are not supposed to say no or resist anything imposed on them,” Andrade says. “At work, I would accept all projects pushed on me even if they were not mine. In my personal life, I would not speak up in my relationships until resentment and anger defined me and my actions.”
Many non-American cultures, especially cultures of color, are also more likely to be collectivist cultures as opposed to individualistic cultures, as cited by therapist and researcher, Sadaf Vidha, in an article about minority women setting emotional boundaries.
“In individualistic cultures, the person or individual is the primary unit,” she explains, while in collectivist cultures, “family is the primary unit and the individual exists within it.”
Growing up in a culture like this can make it difficult for minority women to recognize their own needs and set necessary boundaries. Many are taught from a young age to value the needs and desires of their families first and foremost, and this mentality often translates to the workplace later in life.
Like the family, the team in the workplace becomes the collective, causing minority women to prioritize the needs of other team members over their own needs.
Ayanna Abrams, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and cofounder of Not So Strong, expands on these cultural pressures and further defines boundaries and why they are necessary in an article by ESSENCE.
“I view boundaries as our rules of engagement. [They are] the rules in our relationships that allow us to feel healthy, safe, and have access to different parts of the relationships. Having our boundaries honored can deepen our connections with other people,” Abrams explains.
For minority women who struggle to know when to set boundaries, Abrams encourages people to listen to their bodies and check in with their mental health.
“Black women have been taught that what other people need from us is more important than how we’re feeling,” she says. “I always encourage people to come back to your bodies. If you use your body as your source, it will determine where your [boundaries] need to be drawn. If you don’t give yourself sleep, your body will crash.”
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4 Tips for setting workplace boundaries
Setting healthy workplace boundaries is an important part of one’s self-care and mental health. Setting these boundaries can also help prevent workplace stress and burnout in the future. Having boundaries is not selfish or rude, they are a crucial foundation on which to build your relationships both in the workplace and beyond.
Here are a few tips to help minority women set boundaries in the workplace.
- Practice self-awareness. Make a habit of checking in with yourself from time to time. When you’re feeling down or stressed out at work, examine where those feelings are coming from and assess if they can be fixed by setting a boundary.
- “No” is a full sentence. Sahar Andrade says this in her Forbes article on setting boundaries. It can be hard to say “No” when you have always said “Yes.” However, getting comfortable with this word is crucial to setting effective boundaries. Often, women feel the need to over explain or make excuses for why they are setting a boundary, but just saying “No” is enough.
- Enforce your boundaries. The best way to get people to understand your boundaries is to repeat and enforce them. Some may think setting a boundary is a one-time thing, but more often than not people need to be reminded. Don’t be afraid to assert your boundary and set consequences for when your boundaries are violated.
- Listen to and respect others. Another great way to show people how to respect your boundaries is to be an active participant in listening to and respecting the boundaries of others. When you show others that you respect them, they in turn are more likely to respect you and your own boundaries.
Ultimately, setting boundaries is healthy and necessary to foster a happy and thriving workplace. Boundaries help ensure all individuals are being valued and are not being taken advantage of or overworked. Setting boundaries in the workplace will help to avoid future conflicts, resentment, and burnout while also strengthening relationships and promoting self-care and mutual respect.