During Diversity Awareness Month — similar to Pride Month and Black History Month — news outlets typically dedicate more reporting that is specific to marginalized groups. Media workers that are a part of these groups are often tasked with helping publications diversify their coverage.
While diversity is integral to changing historical narratives that create bias in the media, journalists should feel entitled to draw the line when reporting, and share only what they feel comfortable with.
Harmful stereotypes about people of color have caused these individuals to adopt a pattern of overcompensation and an unwillingness to say no in the workplace. Due to high unemployment rates across marginalized groups and numerous sociopolitical factors, marginalized media workers may have a difficult time setting workplace boundaries.
We compiled tips and resources to help with establishing healthy boundaries while on the job:
Address triggers as they arise
In many cases, people who are marginalized experience workplace triggers. Examples of this include misogynistic, queer-antagonistic comments, silencing of people of color, and exclusion of individuals with disabilities. Many of those affected, however, remain silent or file a complaint at a later point, when things get worse.
When experiencing bias, discrimination and insensitivity in the workplace, reporters should practice validating their own experiences. Employees should also calmly and assertively address the issue. In a 2021 Interview on PsychCentral, Pasadena-based psychotherapist Linda Esposito said, “When you answer communication in a timely manner, you demonstrate confidence in your message, as well as respect for the recipient.”
Depending on the work environment and the potential impact of the response on those on the receiving end, individuals should consider whether they would like to practice setting boundaries verbally, or taking an alternative route to having them respected. While verbally addressing issues could be considered a kinder alternative than reporting them to the human resources department, individuals should check in with themselves to make this decision.
Some work environments may be conducive and accepting of open communication while others may not be. Employees should practice boundary setting in a way that feels safe to them, such as reaching out to a supervisor.
Validate your own experience and practice saying no
Setting boundaries is challenging in one’s personal life, and even more so in the workplace. Implementing these changes are often more difficult for people who are marginalized.
Media workers should refer to the specific terms of their contracts to build the confidence to say no when asked to do more than they feel comfortable with. For example, a contract might stipulate that you need to deliver five articles per month and an editor may ask you to write a story on your gender identity. If the contract does not specify that you will be writing on a given topic, you have the autonomy to express your discomfort with the assignment and make alternative suggestions. Even if you decide to share your story, you have the power to include only what you feel comfortable sharing.
In environments where editors are not equipped with the diversity and sensitivity training to be aware of tokenization, mental health and historical bias, media workers on the margins can practice saying no to coverage angles and topics that they do not wish to report on.
In 2017, the New York Times reported on reasons to practice saying no more often. Among their list of reasons, career counselor Dara Blaine believes that it opens doors. “We live in a ‘yes’ culture, where it’s expected that the person who is going to get ahead is the go-getter who says yes to everything that comes their way. It’s when people learn to say no that I’ve really seen their careers take off,” she says in the article.
Whether it’s saying no to a last minute request for overtime work, or drawing boundaries around what coverage you will participate in, the practice of saying no in the workplace is healthy.
Consider seeing a therapist
Setting boundaries is especially important for maintaining mental wellness during a time as tumultuous as a pandemic. Still, boundaries can be tricky to uphold. It could be beneficial to reach out to support systems, such as mental health practitioners or counselors who can bear witness to the challenges you are facing and support you in striving for a healthier work environment.
In a 2020 article on self-care and boundary setting, Condé Nast’s LGBTQ+ magazine, Them, provides a list of mental health resources for people of marginalized groups:
- Therapy for Black Girls
- Therapy for Queer People of Color
- The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network.
- Open Path Collective
- Nedra Tawabb on social media
Setting and maintaining boundaries is a life-long practice that extends into every sector of life. For media professionals who are marginalized, it can be an empowering way to enforce change and inclusion in the workplace. These changes can lead to less burnout and feelings of exploitation. By validating personal experiences and referring back to the terms of a contract, employees can build confidence by saying no, even to their employers.
Nazlee Arbee is a multimedia artist and journalist based in Cape Town, South Africa.