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No Woman Left Behind: Why conversations around Gender Equity & Representation need Women of Color

Women of Color in Workplace Discussion

After a wealth of research conducted into the issue, most agree: there is much more work to be done around gender equity.

2018 has been a dynamic year where women’s voices were elevated and listened to. The #MeToo movement started the process of dismantling beliefs and power structures that allowed disrespectful and sometimes illegal behavior toward women. Companies are finally acknowledging the need for more gender diversity and are creating development programs, recruiting programs as well and launching ad campaigns featuring women.

As a woman of color, this call out is not surprising nor shocking; it only confirms what I have witnessed, experienced and tried to be clear about for decades in corporate America. As the president of Authentic Culture and Engagement Solutions, Inc. I have committed to being authentic in helping companies to enhance their engagement and company culture by creating inclusive solutions. However, we all know that before a solution can be developed the “challenge”, “opportunity” or “problem must be defined. This study helps define the challenge that women of color face in the corporate environment. Women of color generally receive less support from managers than white women—and black women receive the least support of all.

Black women are far less likely to get help navigating organizational politics and balancing their work and personal lives, and managers are less likely to promote their accomplishments. The same dynamic holds true for access to managers: only about a third of black women socialize with their manager outside of work, compared to about half of white women.


Women in meeting

There was another study done a few years back by Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) titled: Black women ready to lead. The article shared research concluding that black women were not ambivalent about taking on promotions and more responsibility. The McKinsey study echoed this particularly for Black and Latina Women. The study shined a light on how despite higher levels of education, in some cases the opportunities for women of color – especially black women – were limited not by readiness or ambition but lack of opportunities, support and sponsorship.

I write this article as an appeal to everyone to remember that one size does not fit all, and the impact of intersectionality is real. It is intended as a reminder to both men and specifically majority women that a seat at the table is not meant for you to sit in. Ask questions, advocate for women of color, and do not become content being the only woman. Mentor a woman of color, ensure that all programs designed for women are inclusive.

I met with a mentor of mine the other day and I smiled because as a white woman she uses her power and privilege to advocate for all women of color – she is not a bystander but a true ally. Yes, women of color are fierce. Not because we want to be but because we often have no other choice. I am a warrior woman. Willing to stand up and advocate on behalf of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, people with various religious beliefs and yes, for white men as well. However, sometimes – usually after people come to me with their concerns and I charge in as the warrior – I turn around and I am standing alone.

Contrary to stereotypes, I have never been accused of being an angry black woman, because I am not, nor will ever be. I choose to lead with light and love and speak truth to power. I’ve also never been accused of being inauthentic. This article is about asking for and expecting support. Support from co-workers, managers, executives, women and organizations. We as women of color are tired of being overworked, underpaid, invisible for promotions and stretched with assignments. If we are to close this gap, we must be intentional.

We cannot afford to simply say: "well it’s hard for all of us, as women" as this is dismissive, and ignores some of the eye-opening differences that women of color face. We also must not limit relationships to work because authentic relationships span multiple environments and the more we interact with others, the more we understand and accept all of who they are. I am convinced that we can improve gender equity and representation for all women, including women of color. To do so we simply must commit and carry out the actions and behaviors we identify as positive. It’s a new year, and it represents a new opportunity. Let’s use 2019 to commit to doing things differently and more inclusively.

Laws are being passed regarding board representation, and some companies are being more transparent about their representation numbers, committing to goals on increasing women representation at Senior levels and in the C suite. However, despite all the effort and espousing of commitment to gender equity and inclusion, one thing remains painfully clear: women of color are overlooked, underemployed and largely missing from these programs and discussions.

Women in the Workplace 2018, conducted by McKinsey, is one of the largest comprehensive studies of the state of women in corporate America. According to the study, women continue to be vastly underrepresented at every level. For women of color, it’s even worse. Only about one in five senior leaders is a woman, and one in twenty-five is a woman of color.

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