Dec 2021 Circuit

Breaking Stereotypes and Building Boundaries at Work

Date: Thursday, December 9, 5:30-7:00 PM (CDT)

Location: Zoom (online platform)

Speakers: Yuri Kim (She/Her) and Adriana Sanchez (Her/She), from the Counseling Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)

Brene’ Brown in her book, Braving the Wilderness emphasizes how “When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” Many in research, academia do face challenges in either setting their boundaries or in communicating this to their colleagues, supervisors assertively. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are continuing transitions in physical working spaces (remote/onsite/lab). It is only very apt that the Chicago Women in STEM hosted speakers for the December circuit to talk about breaking stereotypes, and setting healthy boundaries at work.

The speakers for this event Yuri Kim and Adriana Sanchez started the evening by introducing Imposter syndrome and cultural microaggression. Yuri & Adriana mentioned how there’s a myth that boundaries are bad because they create distance between people, peers, and colleagues. But in reality, boundaries are very helpful to keep away microaggressions, abuse, and racism. ‘Boundaries limit the amount of exposure a person has to these ‘bad elements’. Setting boundaries is very important for SELF CARE!’

As an icebreaker, they discussed the participants’ perspectives on various gender and cultural stereotypes participants have come across in their workplaces. They explained the signs of a lack of clear boundaries. For example, when one’s experiences or emotions are either invalidated, or one is told that the distress is only in their imagination. Signs to look out for in such cases are:

  1. Decreased motivation/ interest in things you were once interested in
  2. Prioritizing others needs above yours
  3. Eating/ sleeping too much or too little
  4. Having low energy
  5. Compromising vs sacrificing
  6. Feeling resentment or frustration
  7. Feeling stretched for time

Yuri and Adriana explained that the first step in boundary-setting is for the students/researchers to reassess their value and their contributions to various aspects of work and life and to ask themselves which aspects of their life needs more attention. What can you improve upon, to enhance the quality of your life? Which boundaries are your priority?

Next, Yuri went on to share key details to remember while one is breaking the stereotype and setting one’s own boundaries: (i) Forgive yourself on your growth while setting boundaries. It is okay to mess up at times, (ii) Acknowledge your values, skills, strengths, contributions and value, (iii) Honor your values, what is important to you? How can you improve the quality of your life? Adriana emphasized how, like self-awareness and self-compassion, setting boundaries is a “skill”. And while practicing and perfecting any skill, it is important to show yourself grace. Forgive yourself if you’re having to redefine and bend your boundaries due to your field of work.

This was followed by a breakout session based on: “What are your experiences with boundary setting based on your identities and roles as women in STEM ?” – Few groups voiced that their issues were surrounding upholding their boundary-setting resolution through the term, or the defining times they check emails, answer phones, or working on Saturdays or after hours. Yuri went on to elaborate various barriers one can face through this process: (i) fear of rejection, (ii) fear of confrontation, (iii) guilt, (iv) unfamiliarity with healthy boundary-setting, (v), lack of language, and (vi) safety concerns (since in presence of power dynamics, consequences of boundary setting are greater). Yuri and Adriana also spoke about the importance of assertive communication and respecting others’ rights, when you are respecting your own. Communicating directly, with confidence, firmly and practicing ‘The art of saying No.’ It is however crucial to not only say “No” at times but also to learn to deal with “No”s from others.

This was followed by breakout session 2 where participants could practice setting their boundaries. The exercise was around scenarios where: (a)“You are visiting family over the holiday. Your family begins asking how your school, work/ research is going and the “ what next” question. You are uncomfortable responding. How might you set a boundary here?, and (b) After some late nights, you decide to not open email after 6:00pm. A few days after your boss asks why you were unable to respond to an urgent email last night (sent at (9:00pm). How might you communicate a boundary that you set for yourself to your boss?, or (c) your own scenario, which you would like to work on.

The breakout session was followed by a discussion on the ‘foundation of language one can use while setting the boundaries.’ With practice one can develop one’s own authentic style, and genuine language to set boundaries. Till then some of the foundational examples one can use are:

  (i) Say what you need: “I need time to think about this. I will get back to you on __.”
(ii) Saying “No”: “ I appreciate you sharing this opportunity with me, but unfortunately I cannot take advantage of this opportunity/ I am prioritizing ___ at this time.” or just “No.”
(iii) Say how you feel: “ Please don’t____. It makes me feel___.”, “When you’re consistently late, I feel disrespected.”
(iv) Don’t feel obligated to answer: “I am not comfortable sharing that information.”, “That is personal.”, “Thank you for sharing this, I’ll consider this and will let you know when I make a decision.”

They emphasized how one can start practicing boundary-setting within relationships where one feels safe and understands the power dynamics. Ask yourself what your protected spaces & times are.

Yuri and Adriana concluded the evening with some insights to ponder upon.

(i) What other areas of my life can setting boundaries help in?
(ii) Sometimes the areas in which you are trying to set boundaries might be a gray area; it might be difficult. How do I proceed then?
(iii) Are the physical boundaries the boundaries for your work/ home?
(iv) It is equally important to be ethical and to find one’s own balance.

Written by:

Dr. Kuchalambal Agadi
Student Research Graduate
The Larkin Health System, South Miami, FL