Netflix's new show 'The Chair' reveals the subtle ways women of color are set up to fail as leaders

Netflix's "The Chair", which is a Netflix documentary, shows how women of color can be set up to fail in leadership roles.
This show has ignited a discussion about workplace discrimination.

Insider talked to experts about the show's mirroring of real life challenges.

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Ji-Yoon Kim's main character in Netflix's new workplace drama "The Chair", played by Sandra Oh, finds that ascending to a highly sought-after leadership position is a clever form of discrimination.

Annie Wyman and Amanda Peet created "The Chair", a fictional ivy-league school. It follows Kim, who is the first woman of colour to head the English department. The show's premiere was on August 20. It sparked discussion about the additional responsibilities women of color have as leaders.

Kim's experiences mirror the implicit and explicit struggles of many women and people with different backgrounds in academia, including the industry pay gap, tenure issues, and the "glass-cliff" effect. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), three-quarters of full-time faculty members are white, according to the American Association of University Women.

Insider talked to diversity leaders and academics about how the Chair addressed these larger issues, and how this can make it more difficult for women of colour to pursue a career as an academic. This article contains spoilers.

Do not be afraid to fail

Beth Nguyen is an English professor at University of Wisconsin Madison. She recently wrote an essay about Time about how her experiences as a woman of colour in leadership resonated with the nuanced and empathetic portrayal of an Asian American Professor.

The "glass cliff" effect is one of the dynamic depicted in the show. It describes how women are promoted during times of crisis when it is more likely that they will fail. Nguyen stated that while this term is often associated with white women in power it does not reflect the reality of Kim's race and gender.

Nguyen stated that Ji-Yoon has inherited decades of problems. When she fails to solve them all, people turn against her."

Kim said this to her friend, Yaz (Nana Mensah), in a conversation. "I feel like someone gave me a ticking bomb because they wanted to ensure a woman was there when it explodes."

Yaz, a Black professor, is facing her own challenges. Her tenure at Pembroke is less important despite having the highest enrollment numbers and the most innovative ideas to bring the department into 21st-century.

Resolving oppression systems

Although Kim is now the English department's sitting chair, it doesn't mean that she has to be a racist or a sexist person, according to Tanya Williams, a consultant and social-justice educator.

"As chair, does she have power or not?" Williams stated. Williams said.

Williams stated that white supremacy may manifest itself in the workplace by an "achievement" such as Kim being elected chair. This individual view of progress places too much pressure on the one person and neglects the whole system. Williams stated that leaders must learn to recognize and deal with different forms of discrimination in order to create a supportive culture for underrepresented groups.

The Chair may portray ageism, racism and sexism in their current form, but it doesn't depict the process of unwinding and naming these systems.

Leaders set up for success

Nguyen stated that universities are now able to employ professors with the same identity to form clusters in an academic environment. This is to provide a support system. Kim models this leadership skill on the show by emphasizing the importance of listening and understanding people with different identities.

The toxic culture towards women and people of colour is still alive even after the death of "The Chair". Kim was removed by the old guard, and Yaz's future is unknown at Pembroke. She may even consider Yale.

Nguyen said that rather than accepting the reality, Williams and Nguyen suggested that leaders in the real world should see the show as an invitation to make tangible changes to support women of color.

"The story has been told as it is by the writers. What can we do to make it different than it is? Williams stated. Williams said, "That's what interests me more. Is there a show that will show me that there is a way to be different?