Underrepresented Job Seekers Can’t Quiet Quit

If you’re an underrepresented, BIPOC job seeker, the quiet quitting trend might not work for you.  The quiet quitting conversation has traditionally omitted a discussion about the impacts on underrepresented groups and taken a white centered approach.  

This article is going to cover what quiet quitting means, the problem with leaders saying that it will hurt your career, why quiet quitting is stemmed in the concept of privilege and how underrepresented professionals need to work harder to grow their careers.   

“Quiet Quitting”: what it means, and why it’s problematic if you’re not white 

Quiet quitting means being the bare minimum at work.  The term has gone viral on social media sparking many debates.  To some, quitting means setting healthy boundaries between your work life and your personal life.   Others liken the concept of quiet quitting to the laziness of employees.  

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Whatever end of the debate you find yourself on, the idea of quiet quitting is anything but new.  According to Forbes,  quiet quitting is an outcome of disengagement where employees put in the minimum effort needed to get paid.   

The quiet quitting approach could be problematic for traditionally underrepresented professionals who are accustomed to higher performance standards than their white colleagues.  As a result, when it comes to this trend, underrepresented job seekers should proceed with a great deal of caution.

The conversation around quiet quitting has been centered around a single, white experience.  However, we must consider diverse viewpoints and how the quiet quitting approach might not work for underrepresented professionals. 

Leaders say quiet quitting will hurt your career , but the reasons why are out of date 

Some leaders have gone on record to express their concerns with quiet quitting.  In a CNBC article, Kevin O’Leary says, “he looks to hire people who are willing to put in “25 hours a day, eight days a week.” If you’re shutting off your laptop at 5 p.m. and going home, “you’re not working for me,” he says.

The O’Leary leadership style is problematic.  These time expectations just aren’t realistic for all people.  Imagine the single mom who has to pick up her child from daycare, the employee who is struggling to keep their mental health in check, or the hard worker who is completely disengaged because they aren’t getting along with their boss.  Not to mention the underrepresented employee who is exhausted by the need to code switch for hours every day.

Each of these employees might bring big value to the organization.  But life circumstances or preferences might mean they are not willing, or able to, work those extra hours.  Kevin’s underlying expectation that employees ‘live to work’ instead of ‘work to live’. 

While O’Leary implies that leaving at 5:00 pm is a signal of poor performance, the truth is for a leader to expect employees to work to the detriment of their own personal health or well-being isn’t leadership at all.  In fact, you could say quiet quitting is really about the employee reclaiming control and setting healthy boundaries.

Quiet quitting is a privilege, and the stats prove it

O’Leary’s position on quiet quitting is deeply stemmed in the concept of privilege.  The underlying assumption is that all employees can make a decision to work late, or not.  And this just isn’t the case. 

For underrepresented job seekers and people of color, the quiet quitting approach won’t work when it comes to setting more effective boundaries at work.  

Black Canadians seen as slackers

In fact, when underrepresented professionals attempt to create boundaries between their personal lives and work, it is reasonable to assume they are more likely to be seen as slackers. 

After all, Black women are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed than white women,, despite having higher levels of education.  According to the York University Institute for Social Research, 8.8% of Black women with university degrees are unemployed, compared to 5.7% of white women with high school diplomas.  

Lack of leadership representation for BIPOC professionals

On top of this, underrepresented professionals continue to fight for representation at the leadership levels.  According to the Diversity Institute, Black leaders are deeply underrepresented on boards across Canada.  For example, Black individuals hold only 3.6% of all board positions in Toronto despite comprising 7.5% of the Greater Toronto Area population. The picture of Black representation on corporate boards in particular is even bleaker, where only 0.3% of board members are Black.  

With this absence of visibility at leadership levels, underrepresented professionals are forced to balance the expectations of the predominantly white corporate world, as expressed by OL’eary.  All while having different obligations and perspectives that might not be recognized, or supported, by the leadership of the organization.  This lack of recognition can very well be attributed to the largely homogeneous makeup seen at the top levels of the company.

Pressure to hold higher standards due to systemic racism

Underrepresented professionals might also hold themselves higher standards of performance and conduct for themselves than their white colleagues.  The Diversity Institute says, given longstanding experiences with discrimination, rather than viewing their diversity as an advantage, underrepresented professionals will self-select themselves out when it comes to applying for leadership positions.  

This all plays into the discussion on quiet quitting.  O’Leary’s problematic expectations and assumptions may be attributed to his worldview, discounting the individual nature of the circumstances often faced by the underrepresented professional.  

Different backgrounds and lived experiences are not part of the quiet quitting equation.  The concept is largely oversimplified, ignoring the experiences of underrepresented professionals and centering the white experience.  As a result, quiet quitting is a term which is deeply stemmed in privilege.


Underrepresented Professionals Work Harder To Grow Their Careers

Anyone who has tried to grow their professional career has seen first-hand the requirement to fit into the overall tone of the organization’s corporate culture.  This often means mirroring the behaviours, and hours of those at the highest level of the organization.  All the while, not having the same access to resources and support like childcare, for example.  

Conforming to organizational norms and standards are often paramount to career success at the leadership level.  In The Unwritten Rules: The Six Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level, John Beeson shows moving to the top level of an organization means putting the company’s needs before your own individual needs.  This viewpoint aligns with O’Leary’s perspective and expectation that employees work “eight days a week’.

Given that underrepresented professionals continue to lack representation at all levels of leadership across Canada, it is reasonable to assume that those norms and standards do not acknowledge or support their unique circumstances or perspective.  As a result, quiet quitting simply isn’t feasible in most cases.  

This is true for the underrepresented professional who is interested in growing a corporate career.  Especially if that career is inside a company or industry run by leaders who share more traditional values and remain plagued by systemic issues.  

You can advance your career, while quiet quitting.

Ambitious professionals can actually leverage quiet quitting as an avenue to further explore their own unique career goals.  While the mainstream narrative often paints quiet quitters as lazy or lacking commitment, this might be far from the reality of the situation.

Quiet quitters are often ambitious professionals at an impasse in their life or career. Consequently, quiet quitting brings you a unique opportunity for reflection and re-evaluation.  

Quiet quitters may find themselves with extra time that’s freed up from setting boundaries around work hours and deliverables.  You can use this time wisely to re-evaluate your career goals and explore new opportunities.

Here are 5 things to focus on for career advancement while quiet quitting.

Quiet quitting doesn’t work for marginalized professionals

It’s clear to see that not everyone is able to leverage quiet quitting as a tactic to deal with a less than ideal job, or to set workplace boundaries. There are many reasons that underrepresented people, and all people for that matter, feel the need to maintain their job at all costs.  For example, health care benefits and the steady paycheck.  But there added pressures and complexities faced by underrepresented professionals which are often not acknowledged in this discussion.  

As we work to build inclusive workplaces and communities, it’s important to acknowledge the differences in expectations and perspectives.  

Conclusion: “quiet quitting” as a concept needs to consider diverse perspective

The quiet quitting trend just won’t work for everyone.  The conversation needs to be expanded to consider diverse perspectives and the serious implications it might have on marginalized populations. 

Namely, the trend might further perpetuate the imbalance between the expectations of white and non-white employees by leading to career setbacks for underrepresented professionals.  For underrepresented professionals who continue to fight against stereotypes, like laziness, and who want to be perceived as equal in the workplace, quiet quitting will not lead to the desired results.  

The quiet quitting discussion must include diverse perspectives in order to remain valid and relevant.  This means recognizing the lens of both white and non-white professionals, leaders and sole-contributors, office workers, the front-line, and so on.

No matter your race, or where you’re from, quiet quitting is not a sign of poor performance, lack of commitment or laziness. Quiet quitting is a sign of a commitment to protecting your health, time and overall value. 

No matter what Kevin O’Leary says.

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Shauna Cole

Shauna Cole is the founder of hirediverse.ca. She is a Human Resources Consultant and Instructor at the University of New Brunswick. She’s been featured by CBC, The Canadian HR Reporter, CareerBeacon, The Maritime Edit, Jobscan and more. She founded hirediverse.ca to connect underrepresented job seekers with employers who value diversity. Join her on LinkedIn or watch her videos on Youtube.