The perils of toxic positivity in the workplace. Plus, how to convince your employer to fund professional development

The perils of toxic positivity in the workplace. Plus, how to convince your employer to fund professional development

Common stereotypes place an expectation on women to react more positively to negative events.Delmaine Donson

Content from The Globe’s weekly Women and Work newsletter, part of The Globe’s Women’s Collective. To subscribe, click here.

Clinical social worker Sarah Ahmed commonly comes across people who are struggling or unhappy in their jobs, but can’t name or validate their experiences.

“They’re quick to negate that by saying, ‘Well, I’m grateful I have a job,’” says Ms. Ahmed, who co-founded the Toronto-based private mental health practice Wellnest.

This, she says, is a classic example of how “toxic positivity” can hamper one’s personal or career growth. When employees get the message at work that only positive feelings are acceptable, people can feel as though their only option is to look on the bright side.

Dr. Sonia Kang, an associate professor of organizational behaviour and special adviser on anti-racism and equity at the University of Toronto, says there are many situations in the workplace where toxic positivity might occur, including customer interactions, working with colleagues or receiving negative feedback from a manager.

“Even when people are in situations where naturally they might experience negative emotions, they’re encouraged to push those below the surface and then act like everything is okay,” she says. “It’s promoting this kind of false optimistic state that takes a lot of work for people to maintain.”

Read the full article for more on how toxic positivity at work can be mentally and physically draining.

Women’s tech collective Toast launches with aim to diversify hiring, reduce wage gaps

When Marissa McNeelands was hiring a senior artificial intelligence product manager last year, she asked recruiters to suggest an equal number of male and female candidates.

They didn’t put forward any women, but she knew there had to be some who were more than qualified for the job.

“Really it was going into my network, talking to people, pushing people to apply,” Ms. McNeelands, a Toronto artificial intelligence worker, recalled.

“I find with so many women they just need that extra little push to be like ‘yeah, you are qualified, go for it, ask for more money.’”

That experience and others like it are why Ms. McNeelands thinks Canada needs Toast, a women’s collective and talent organization she and April Hicke, a digital product director in Calgary, dreamed up at Mont Tremblant’s spa in Quebec last August.

By October, Toast had launched and in January it opened for memberships with 2,000 women on the waitlist.

The name is “a play on toasting your nine to five goodbye” because the company strives to “get women out of the corporate jobs they hate” and is also a reference to making bread, a slang term for money, said Ms. McNeelands.

Read the full article for how Toast is working to take bias out of the hiring process.

Why redefining professionalism must go well beyond appearance

Crystal McPhee remembers a time in the 1990s when she was preparing a young Black man with dreadlocks for an interview in sales. She worked in the staffing industry and her goal was to have him present in a professional manner to fit in and get the job.

Back then, professionalism was about looking the part: the right clothes, the right hair, the right demeanour.

“I told him to tie his hair back. If it was Friday night in the club, I would have thought it was all kinds of nice, but it was a 9-to-5 [job]. And I told him to tone it down so he could go in and win the job,” she says. “He didn’t get the job and didn’t become a long-term candidate for me. We never spoke again after that, but as I reflected on it, I realized what I had done was taken his Blackness away.”

A lot has changed over the past 30 years, says Ms. McPhee, now a human resources professional.

People can be more authentic and creative with how they present themselves. T-shirts and ripped jeans at work, pyjama bottoms during Zoom meetings and natural Black hairstyles aren’t frowned upon any more. But are changing standards around appearance enough when it comes to changing the definition of professionalism and truly making it an equalizing force?

Read on for insights into how to make workplaces more equitable and less biased.

In case you missed it

Should you go back to school to boost your career prospects?

During the pandemic, Hanadi Usman checked off an item from her professional development bucket list and successfully completed an online master of business administration (MBA) degree.

Ms. Usman, a 41-year-old project manager working in the health-care industry in Toronto, had put off pursuing the MBA for over a decade because she was wary of being burdened with student loan debt. She also needed a flexible curriculum that could accommodate the demands of a full-time job.

Even though her MBA degree did not result in a significant raise or promotion, Ms. Usman has no regrets about taking the plunge.

“My MBA degree has definitely helped me to understand business strategies, branding, sales and leadership because we had CEOs and executives from well-known companies share their experiences,” she says. “It was very interesting and I learned new ways of looking at things.”

Read the full article.

Four steps to increasing gender equity on corporate boards

Gender equity in corporate boardrooms in Canada is still far from equitable, despite diversity disclosure rules.

A review from February 2022 by Women Get On Board found that among the 237 new listings on the TSX and TSX Venture exchange last year, less than 16 per cent of board seats were filled by women.

Only 3.4 per cent of those companies had achieved gender parity in their boardrooms (50 per cent or more), while 38 per cent had no female representation at all on boards.

Meanwhile, a 2021 report by business law firm Osler found that among the S&P/TSX 60 companies, almost one-third (33.2 per cent) of board seats are held by women.

“Big companies, that’s where we’ve seen the most progress,” says Jennifer Reynolds, Toronto-based CEO of Women Corporate Directors Foundation, a global not-for-profit organization of female corporate directors.

Even 30 per cent representation is not enough, she says.

Read the full article.

Ask Women and Work

Question: I’ve found what I think is a perfect professional development program for me. I believe it’s the kind of training that could help me reach my career goals, plus I’ve heard good things about it from others who have taken it. The issue is that I really don’t have the funds to pay for it on my own. How should I go about convincing my employer to fund all or part of the course?

We asked Mollo Miller, career educator and coach at Rotman Commerce, University of Toronto, to tackle this one:

Professional development programs are fantastic ways to learn, develop skills and grow as an individual, but they are also good for organizations. I would approach the conversation with your leader with that in mind.

If you haven’t already, you may want to consult with HR and/or your company website. Organizations often have established educational reimbursement options, but many employees don’t realize it because they aren’t well advertised. Assuming your employer does not have one, I would recommend approaching this conversation like a salary negotiation; prepare a case with evidence.

It sounds like you’ve already done great research and will be able to showcase to your employer the value of the program to your own professional development and in your continued contributions to the company. It may be worth it to review your company’s handbook and your organization’s mission, vision, values and goals. It’s likely they have referenced valuing education and you can leverage this in your case.

You said you have talked to others who’ve taken the course; if they are fellow colleagues at your organization and they received support from your employer when enrolled, you may want to share that. This could show that within the organization there is precedent for paying all or part of the fee for a professional development program.

I would then develop your case like a pitch or presentation. Create supporting materials and practice sharing out loud why this program will serve you and the company. As much as possible, think through the questions your employer will have in advance and include them in your pitch. For example: What will be the total cost? Will this take time away from your work? If so, how will you ensure work will still be completed? Are there alternative programs? Why is this the right one for you? Practice sharing your case with others so that you are comfortable presenting it.

As you’ve noted in your question, you may need to compromise. That could mean paying for part of the program, agreeing to remain at the company for a certain amount of time after program completion or paying upfront but having them reimburse you upon completion of the program.

Lastly, I’d recommend having this chat in person or face-to-face virtually. This reinforces human connection and will allow you to showcase your interest and passion.

Submit your own questions to Ask Women and Work by e-mailing us at [email protected].

The perils of toxic positivity in the workplace. Plus, how to convince your employer to fund professional development Tausi Insider Team

Interested in more perspectives about women in the workplace? Find all stories on the The Globe Women’s Collective hub here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter here. Have feedback? E-mail us at [email protected].

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