Return to Office? Some Women of Color Aren’t Ready

“I’ve heard A.A.P.I. women express concerns about their physical safety while walking outside,” Dr. Pham said, referring to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, “and more leaders must consider this as in-person work requires commuting.”

Company leaders should familiarize themselves with the particular challenges women of color face before developing return-to-office policies, Dr. McCluney and Dr. Roberts said. Or at the very least, they should be prepared to address them as employees return.

For their part, millions of businesses are grappling with what “back to work” should look like. Current models run the gamut from fully in person to hybrid to fully remote. This month Amazon announced that it expected office workers to return to the office at least three days a week starting after Labor Day. Apple made a similar announcement but faced immediate pushback from employees. Ford and Twitter, by contrast, announced plans to let their workers remain remote indefinitely.

Not surprisingly, it’s become a contentious issue. Many executives — including leaders at Netflix, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan — say company cultures thrive when people are together in offices. But a lot of workers feel differently: About 63 percent of 20,750 respondents said they valued working from home two or three days a week as much as a raise, José Maria Barrero, co-author of the Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes, said in an email.

The virtual environment is more equalizing in many ways, said Dr. Pham, who identifies as a Vietnamese-born American. Some years ago she faced criticism after she hung decorative paper lanterns above her desk. “I heard secondhand that those lanterns upset some co-workers because they felt they were unprofessional,” she said.

Now she displays them proudly in her home office, where anyone in a virtual meeting with her can see. Also, “I’m a short person at 5 feet, which means in physical spaces, I have to work extra hard at literally being seen,” she said.

She added: “I am more confident in virtual spaces because we are all the same height. I spend almost no time worrying about what to wear or makeup, and I usually don’t use a virtual background when on video conference. I feel more authentic presenting my real background to others.”

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