It refers to the stress, fatigue, and exhaustion of being the only person of a particular identity.

By Samantha Hunter
October 08, 2020
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Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

Undoubtedly, if you are a woman, you know what it feels like to experience burnout. In a recent tweet, Arianna Huffington addressed its prevalence by saying, "Don't buy into the myth that you have to burn out in order to succeed. Women pay a higher price for our culture of stress and burnout, and buying into it has terrible consequences on our health and happiness."

And yet, for some women, the idea of burnout takes on a deeper and more profound meaning. Enter: representation burnout. While it may not be a term that you've heard before or are familiar with, for some women, representation burnout has been a part of their professional work experience long before there was a term coined to describe it. Representation burnout is defined as the feeling of exhaustion and isolation that comes from being the only person of a particular identity in an environment; and it's usually experienced by minority members who navigate non-diverse spaces on a daily basis, whether that be at work or in other circles.

A recent report published by Women in the Workplace offered the following eye-opening statistics to support the idea that representation burnout is indeed commonplace: For every 100 men promoted to a managerial position, only 85 women are promoted. And the gap is only wider for some women: Only 71 Latinas and 58 Black women were promoted; Black women are twice as likely to feel like they can't bring their whole selves to work, and fewer than one in five Black women have had a manager check in on them regarding racial violence in America. Women in leadership roles are burning out faster than men. According to the same statistics, 39 percent of senior women are burned out compared to 29 percent of senior men—and senior women are also more likely to think about downshifting careers, citing burnout as the main reason. 

We spoke to professional women who shared their very own experiences with representation burnout, how they coped with it, and why it is so important to call a thing a thing and discuss representation burnout as it plays out for a predominant number of women in the workplace. Here are their stories.

Advocating for Yourself

Margarita M. Marte, personal trainer and owner of Body by Margarita, recalls an experience of representation burnout over 20 years ago. "I worked at a fitness club in Manhattan at the time, a very prestigious fitness club," she recalls. "I was by far one of their most reliable employees, always on time, always did my job, and never called out." That's when she applied for a newly opened position, which would have been a promotion. "When I put in for the position, I was told that I was going to be considered for it," she says, "and in the same week, they brought a lady in who never worked for the company (but her husband did and, of course, she was white) for me to train her for her to take the position I had put in for." She was never told anything as to why she was turned down for the position.

She has since started her own fitness-centered training business. "At the time that I was going through it, I just made up my mind that nothing or no one was ever going to make me feel that small or worthless again," she says. "So I picked my head up and continued to be proud of me and who I was, and I didn't let that particular incident stop me."

Becoming an Empathetic Listener

Deyana Pope, a professional in human resources who identifies as Black and Latina, says that women and minorities are the first two groups to face representation burnout. "Most HR professionals are not able to relate to minorities, and that's why they burn out," she explains. "I think we're not trained on how to deal with representation burnout, because there haven't been a lot of HR leaders who are minorities in leadership."

That said, she recommends on keeping an open line of communication with others in the workplace. "It's very important to be honest with your manager," she advises. "There have been times for me personally where I've had to sit down with a manager and be like, 'Listen, what you're doing is not cool. This is how it's affecting me.'"

If you don't speak up for yourself, she insists, then nothing's going to change. "Put time on your manager's calendar to address specific instances and ask how to move on and make [work] a better, more inclusive environment."

Finding Your Support System

Lisa Nicole Rosado, the founder and creative director of We Are Women Owned, has established a network of supporting women in business—and it harkens back to her roots. "I'm Latina—Puerto-Rican American, and I grew up in the Bronx," she says. When she was 13, she moved to Connecticut and recalls being one of very few non-white students. "That was such a culture shock for me, because I went from being the majority to being a minority," she says. "I didn't realize how much that would take a toll on me personally as well as my educational experience. I was really hurt because I was so used to being accepted for who I was. I felt like it held me back, and it was exhausting."

But today, she doesn't stand for people who discriminate. "I've realized how important it is to own that aspect of myself, to lean more into being Latina," she says. "Now more than ever, it's important to show up for the Latinx community and create those opportunities for them to be visible, which is a big part of our mission right now. We've been able to support so many people and our hope is to continue to amplify those voices. I'm passionate about supporting women of all colors—it's so necessary and there's so much work to be done."

Even when she started her own online boutique business, she recalls a lack of available resources. So she started to seek out a community of her peers, which, in turn, became a resource of her own. "Surrounding yourself with the right kind of people definitely makes a huge difference," she says. "Once you do have that support, a lot of the representation burnout starts to melt away."

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