Transcription softwares are becoming a popular tool among employees of color to combat tone policing

The second industrial revolution is here thanks to an ever-growing list of viruses spreading rampantly across the globe. Both employers and employees are still trying to find a balance between the demand for remote work, more flexibility, and the need to work collaboratively, in person. Among the constant changes in society one thing that still plays a clear role in the lives of employees is racism and discrimination. And while many employees of color, especially black employees, prefer to work remote to get a break from micro-aggressions, the increased reliance on chat technologies like Slack and Teams have exacerbated another bi-product of racism in the workplace... tone policing.


The definition of tone policing, according to Dictionary.com is, “a conversational tactic that dismisses the ideas being communicated when they are perceived to be delivered in an angry, frustrated, sad, fearful or otherwise emotionally charged manner.”


As Tess Martin writes in her piece, “Racism 101: Tone Policing”:

The suggestion that you can’t deliver a razor-sharp argument against racism unless you employ a chilly brand of academic detachment from the subject matter is pure bullshit. Being subjected to any form of injustice is infuriating. The last thing I want to hear from someone who has just said or done something completely out of line is how I need to check my emotional response to it. But tone policing works so well as a defense mechanism because it renders a perfectly legitimate complaint irrational, especially when the offending individual maintains his or her own saintly calm. If you can successfully shut another person down based on her anger or frustration, then you don’t ever have to answer for your own racist conduct. And, bonus, by remaining cool as a cucumber, you appear to be in the right to those around you, especially in comparison to the irate person you just insulted with your belittling behavior.


While tone policing isn’t new, employees are starting to leverage technology to combat it. And we don’t blame them. Meeting recording and transcription technologies like Otter are being used to document meeting content and tone. Many of our clients report that their managers or coworkers decorate what was said in meetings to make them appear hostile or angry, play victim to the point of claiming emotional distress, or paint them into one of many race-based stereotypes. This almost always leaves clients in a, “my word against theirs” situation which almost always resorted in no meaningful action to prevent the behavior from happening again. Now, however, clients are presenting us with word for word transcriptions of meeting with the producer of the harm levied against them. In essence, there’s now their side, your side, and the recording/transcription.


This opens a whole different conversation about the use of transcription and recording software in the workplace. For one, it is different from employees using their personal devices to secretly hold meetings which may or may not be legal depending on what state they live in. These tools, many of which gained traction in the workplace as an accommodation for differently abled employees, are provided by and paid for by employers. If an employee were to sue or file an EEOC related charge, surely these transcriptions would be used as evidence, no differently than emails would. Do transcription services count as recordings? Could this be used as a loop hoop hole in recording laws? If so, this is good news for employees.


The future of these tools is unclear, but they have been instrumental in helping employees of color, particularly Black women, dispel these narratives created by their non black counterparts. There is a clearer path to accountability for perpetuating racial harm in the workplace when there is a documented transcript of what was said, a source of truth if you will.


Did you find this article helpful? What are some of your strategies to fight tone policing at work?

If you are in a situation at work and need independent HR support please book time with a Caged Bird HR Consultant, at www.cagedbirdhr.com




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