A new report from Catalyst, Empowering Workplaces Combat Emotional Tax for People of Colour in Canada, finds that Canadian people of colour—specifically workers who identify as Black, East Asian, and South Asian–experience high levels of “emotional tax,” putting their overall health at risk and causing them to contemplate quitting.

The report also finds that, despite these challenges, Canadian people of colour still have a strong drive to contribute and succeed, and employers can counter the negative trend by creating empowering work environments for their employees.

The study of more than 700 Canadian men and women of colour was conducted with the support of Ascend Canada, a non-profit that collaborates with Canadian businesses to develop and advance pan-Asian talent, and it includes both quantitative and qualitative results.

Emotional tax, first described by Catalyst in 2016, is the combination of feeling different from peers at work because of gender, race and/or ethnicity, being on guard for experiences of bias, and the associated effects on health, well-being, and the ability to thrive at work. The 2019 report shows that many Canadians of colour are in a constant state of being “on guard” and have a high intent to quit. Being on guard can emerge from enduring acts of bias or discrimination in society at large or in the workplace.

“People of colour are an engine of Canada’s economy, yet they continue to face some of the workplace’s most entrenched hurdles, such as near invisibility in top leadership roles, pay inequities, and discrimination,” says Tanya van Biesen, Executive Director, Canada, Catalyst. “Over time, these challenges take a heavy toll, impacting employees’ health and well-being. In times of talent and skill scarcity, companies must take intentional action to create empowering work environments that value people for their uniqueness and drive their intent to stay.”

The 2019 study shows that people who are “on guard” take different measures. Many of their actions fall into the category of “covering”—conscious efforts to not only prepare for bias but also to try to block it by downplaying aspects of their identity to help shield against discrimination or negative reactions.

“The importance of bringing our authentic and whole selves to work has never been more critical, especially in light of how covering impacts our community,” says Kelvin Tran, President, Ascend Canada. “Together with Catalyst, we hope this research on emotional tax will drive stronger conversations about inclusion in the workplace and empower employee engagement, innovation and financial performance.”



Being “on guard” is a shared experience among people of colour in Canada.

  • 33% to 50% of professionals of Colour report being highly on guard to protect against bias.
  • In in-depth interviews, 77% of women and men of colour shared harrowing stories of exclusion and being on guard.
  • In many cases, the people didn’t disclose their difficult experiences until well into the interview—indicating the importance of going beneath the surface to better understand the experiences of people of colour.
  • Even when they are on guard, Canadian people of colour have a strong drive to contribute and succeed.


Emotional Tax contributes to Canada’s retention problem.

  • 50% to 69% of Black, East Asian, and South Asian professionals who are highly on guard against bias have a high intent to quit.


Emotional Tax is associated with threats to health and well-being.

  • 22% to 42% of professionals of Colour who are highly on guard against bias report high rates of sleep problems.
  • Leaders who create empowering work environments that support people of colour can drive intent to stay by ensuring that they feel valued for their uniqueness.


In the report, employees identify a number of actions that companies can take to create an empowering work environment.

These include:

  • Talking to, trusting, and standing by their employees.
  • Equipping employees with the tools they need to thrive.


The new report builds on previously released Catalyst reports Day-to-Day Experiences of Emotional Tax Among Women and Men of Color in the Workplace and Emotional Tax: How Black Women and Men Pay More at Work and How Leaders Can Take Action. The term “Emotional Tax” was identified in the first report by Catalyst researchers Dnika Travis, Ph.D., Jennifer Thorpe-Moscon, Ph.D., and Courtney McCluney, Ph.D.

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About Catalyst

Catalyst is a global nonprofit working with some of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women. Founded in 1962, Catalyst drives change with pioneering research, practical tools, and proven solutions to accelerate and advance women into leadership—because progress for women is progress for everyone.

About Ascend Canada

Ascend Canada is a non-profit organization with the mission to develop and advance pan-Asian talent through partnerships with other Canadian and like-minded organizations. With more than 3,000 members and many corporate partners across a wide range of industries, Ascend is committed to offering members strategic professional development programs and unparalleled access to key decision-makers and senior executives. For more information, visit

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