February 10, 2023
Q&A with Barnini Bhattacharyya
Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour
What is the official title of your new article?
Do you see me? An inductive examination of differences between women of color’s experiences of and responses to invisibility at work.
Who are your collaborators and where are they located?
My collaborator was Jennifer Berdahl, a Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of British Columbia.
When and where was this study conducted?
I started working on this in the second year of my PhD and it was my first independent research study. I collected the data throughout 2017 and it enabled me to figure out how to do independent scholarship and research. It was very much a labour of love.
The study was conducted in Vancouver BC. It started out as a qualitative methods course paper and became bigger when I realized I was on to something cool. I worked on it into 2020, submitted to AMJ where I received an R&R. I also submitted it to JAP where it had a much better reception.
Was this research funded by a larger program of research or a large grant?
Yes, this was funded by a SSHRC, so very much not my own money.
Is this part of an ongoing collaboration?
It is part of a general collaboration with Jennifer on issues regarding equity.
How would you describe the overarching concepts behind this article in the simplest terms possible? Tell me about your research in laymen’s terms.
This project studies misunderstood and less paid attention to racialized women in the workplace. It’s called intersectional invisibility – certain individuals with multiple marginalized identities are not paid attention or seen or heard and rendered invisible in traditional spaces and organization. People of a more prototypical demographic are at the forefront, whereas marginalized gender and race are made more susceptible to intersectional invisibility. This qualitative study was conducted with 65 women in Vancouver and parts of the pacific northwest about their experiences with invisibility at work. We found that for many in this group, a lot of their experiences were homogenous; e.g. black people experienced racism, women experienced sexism, etc, but they also had novel experiences and novel reactions to the agency and power in their respective worlds.
We found four types of experience
- Erasure: what we would commonly think of as invisibility (e.g. not seen or heard in a meeting.)
- Homogenization: seeing women of color as interchangeable members of their social group (e.g. Asian people mixed up, forgetting black women’s names.)
- Whitening: Ignoring the invisible parts of one’s identity and only focusing on parts approximate to whiteness, effectively elevating towards whiteness and downplaying one’s own culture (e.g. watching sports)
- Exoticization: racialized sexualization, and fetishization. Not seeing these women as individuals and more akin to conquests.
What was the motivation to speak specifically to this matter?
When I started my PhD at UBC in 2016, one of my good friends mentioned a colleague of hers having been excluded from a group thanksgiving dinner with peers. Afterwards, the narrative was about that group being a “family,” but there was no acknowledgment towards this one Korean woman who hadn’t been included. How could they say these things about family and not acknowledge the human being with agency in front of them?
What is the most shocking or groundbreaking finding from your research?
- How pervasive this was. It essentially happened constantly and every day at work to the women in the study
- How harmful and debilitating it was across the board.
What would you say is the biggest takeaway from your research and its impact on the world/community?
- Actively focusing on people’s humanities and learning to not reduce them to cognitive schemas (Asians are like this, black people like this, etc.)
- Even if you have well meaning or good intentions, still being able to acknowledge those actions as being harmful is important. Apologizing and acknowledging mistakes is almost critical as those things will happen
Do you have future plans for this research? If so, what are they?
I’m already working on ways in which allies can mitigate or challenge intersect invisibility. I just received an R&R for an FT50 paper for which I’m quite hopeful.
If you had to sum up this article for the public in 140 characters, what would you say?
This article posits who are we paying attention to and whose humanity we see as worthy of paying attention to.