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Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace summary

Janice Gassam Asare

A Guide for Equity and Inclusion

2.5 (17 ratings)
21 mins
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    Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace
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    A history of whiteness

    You may have heard the term whiteness thrown around in discussions on diversity, equality, and inclusion. But what does it really mean? Whiteness refers to the dominant cultural patterns of Europeans that have been imposed on societies globally, especially during colonialism. More than just skin color or ethnicity, whiteness outlines social and legal constructions for maintaining power and privilege over Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized groups.

    In the United States specifically, the legal and social construct of whiteness was created to consolidate power for certain Europeans over oppressed groups. As early British colonies institutionalized slavery in the 1600s, white identity demarcated English and northern European colonizers from African and Indigenous peoples to justify dehumanizing treatment. Wealth, Protestant faith, light skin, and educated status became delineators of privilege.

    But maintaining dominance requires allyship, especially in times of immigration. So, as independence expanded the nation, the boundaries of whiteness tactically grew from just the British aristocracy to include immigrants like the Irish, Italians and Poles – uniting wider European groups under a superiority banner against Black, Asian, and Indigenous communities.

    By 1865 when slavery formally ended, non-white groups had been thoroughly disenfranchised and denied voting rights, property ownership, and citizenship. Violent tactics – from lynchings to land seizures – continued, using this legally and socially reinforced construct of whiteness to sustain profound inequities well into the 1960s.

    You might notice whiteness rearing its head in the modern workplace through policies, norms, or day-to-day behaviors that implicitly excuse, prioritize or favor traits linked with that dominant white heritage and identity. Consider Eurocentric sounding names receiving higher call-back rates on job applications. Or speaking patterns from those raised with English as a second language facing prejudice or worse – scorn and derision. 

    Human resource policies around grooming and appearance often implicitly judge hairstyles from non-European backgrounds as unprofessional. Leaders subconsciously feel more affinity towards employees who share their informal speech patterns, or off-work interests and hobbies that reflect similar upbringings.

    Each example may seem minor. Yet small daily interactions create patterns of advantage and disadvantage that impact who feels they belong and can bring their full selves to work, who feels empowered to offer viewpoints, lead key projects or represent the company publicly.

    The first step to interrupting this system is tuning into how norms of whiteness often unintentionally and invisibly permeate policies, culture, and habits in most organizations. What are the ongoing impacts of this implicit bias? Let’s tackle that next.

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    What is Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace about?

    Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace (2023) exposes how white-dominant norms, mindsets, and behaviors subtly perpetuate harms and constrain inclusion in policies, interactions, and cultures across organizations.

    Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace Review

    Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace (2021) sheds light on fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion by challenging the dominance of white culture in professional environments. Here's why this book is a valuable read:

    • It presents concrete strategies for dismantling systemic biases and creating more inclusive workplaces for everyone.
    • The book offers insightful analysis on how whiteness influences organizational dynamics and individual behaviors, prompting critical reflection and action.
    • Through authentic stories and practical tools, it empowers readers to navigate uncomfortable conversations about race and privilege with sensitivity and effectiveness.

    Who should read Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace?

    • Human resources professionals looking to tackle subtle biases hindering diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts
    • Organizational leaders seeking fresh perspectives on barriers facing marginalized groups
    • Employees seeking solutions to dominant cultural patterns in the workplace

    About the Author

    Dr. Janice Gassam Asare is an organizational psychologist and anti-racism strategist whose work explores centering oppressed voices to transform harmful systems and cultures. She founded the Racial Justice Network consulting group and authored viral Forbes commentaries, tackling topics like structural discrimination across industries, that have made her a sought-after speaker on diversity, belonging, and inclusive excellence.

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    Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace FAQs 

    What is the main message of Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace?

    The main message of Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace is promoting diversity and inclusion for a more equitable work environment.

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    Is Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace offers valuable insights on fostering diversity and inclusivity. It's worth reading for a deeper understanding.

    Who is the author of Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace?

    Janice Gassam Asare is the author of Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace.

    What to read after Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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