The Costs Of Code-Switching

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
code switching
Code-switching, or downplaying one’s membership in a stigmatized racial group, can generate both positive and negative outcomes for Black employees. Former U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns for Democratic Florida gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum and Florida Senator Bill Nelson during a political event at the Ice Place Studios on Nov. 2, 2018, in Miami, Florida. Credit: Matrix/MediaPunch

Code-switching — the art of adjusting one’s style of speech, language, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways that would optimize the comfort of others — could be more psychologically costly for Black employees as they cannot truly be themselves in an office.

Research conducted by a team at the Harvard Business Review suggested that code-switching can generate both positive and negative outcomes for Black employees, but employers should address what everyone at the company needs to do to change this.

Code-switching in the workplace

The researcher found that Blacks and other minority employees downplay their membership in a stigmatized racial group to help increase the perception of professionalism and the likelihood of being promoted or hired.

Minority employees go as far as avoiding negative stereotypes and expressing shared interest with members of dominant groups at work.

These come at a social and psychological cost associated with hostility from within the Black person’s own racial group which could accuse the party code-switching of “acting white”.

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Code-switching among Black employees was also associated with their depleted cognitive resource and hindered performance. It contributes to employee burn-out.

These findings were largely found while analyzing how Black employees navigated mostly white American organizations.

The researchers concluded that while creating workplaces that are inclusive of Black people will enable companies to retain a diverse workforce and bolster innovation, Black employees who feel pressure to code-switch may feel devalued and this would reduce their commitment to the company.

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