Updated: Dec 31, 2020
I confess: I tipped toed around racial topics previously to avoid conflict. I can’t anymore. When the George Floyd tragedy happened, I had to step out of my perceived safe space and take a stand for my people and for humanity.
We have to look at making things more equitable for a community of people that have not been treated equitably. I agree that all lives matter, but until Black lives are made more equitable, all lives don’t truly matter as they should. For Black women, the intersectionality of race and gender greatly impact their very being as the lack of equity extends into the corporate and professional workspace.
Discussions on racism and sexism aren’t dividing; the division already exists. The battle of the sexes isn’t a battle at all. When it comes to fortune 500 companies only about 7% are led by women (www.cnbc.com, May 2020). The wage gap also continues to loom; on average women make $0.81 on every dollar a man makes. For Black and Latina women, this gap is even wider. I think it’s clear who is not only winning this battle, but has been the sole victor for centuries past. Us not having these discussions or working to resolve these and other inequities is a form of acceptance. We should, instead, ask the hard questions of “What are we going to do about this? How can we create a culture in our organization that can be truly inclusive?”
Often time organizations will focus on either gender or race, but it’s time to bring the two together and tackle them head-on. For organizations to help Black women, they have to focus on the unique barriers they face: a unique combination of sexism and racism. So how can we make this happen?
You, lady, shouldn’t be afraid of speaking your truth to power, especially when done respectfully. But, having solid facts and examples to support your truth will be key in getting your point across. Now more than ever, there are tons of resources to help further your knowledge on the different aspects of inequality for Black women in corporate America and other professional careers. They say numbers talk; so it’s time to let data, statistics, and analytics commingled with your experience speak volumes.
Be The Help
Take the resources, relationships, and influence you have to make life more equitable for Black women. If you are a manager, a leader, or someone with some level of influence, it’s time to have a voice for the voiceless. Taking time to step back and firmly audit the culture of your organization is crucial in being able to pinpoint areas that need change. No matter where you may stand on the corporate ladder, if you see something, say something. If your organization does not have a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, ask why. If there are no programs or employee (business) resource groups, ask why. Things are only subject to change when we question the gaps and help support the solutions. It starts with your voice.
Bring Awareness to Hidden Realities
If a workplace is going to be truly inclusive, it’s important that incidents such as sexual assault against women (#MeToo), police brutality, which disproportionately impact the Black community and deportation that threatens the Latino community, are acknowledged and addressed.
When these news making incidents occur, it is imperative that employees hear from their leaders. Given the size of the organization, that could mean an impromptu team meeting, town hall or company-wide email showing concern and support for impacted communities. In addition to acknowledging these often hidden realities, leaders should also work with their human resources, communication, and legal teams to gather and share available support services and resources. Extending this support more broadly, like making a monetary contribution to organizations who champion diversity, equity, and inclusion, are clear demonstrations of support.
Seek and Find Support
While this can be a really sensitive topic from a professional perspective, it’s a necessary topic to ensure equality in the workplace. From the white male (one end of the spectrum) to the Black female (the opposite end of the spectrum), everyone deserves a fair opportunity to be successful and rise in their careers, if they so choose. There is strength in numbers. The more voices you have the more amplified your message becomes and you’ll have a greater impact. Seek out allies and advocates, people of great influence in your organization, or someone higher in leadership to help you ensure this topic is not only included on the c-suite agenda, but given the ample time for discussion it deserves. By presenting your factual research, your experience, and how this can affect the organization, you’re shining a light on issues that warrant their attention.
There are many more ways to create a culture of inclusivity and acknowledgment of the value that Black female employees add to an organization. It all starts with coming to the table with an open mind and open heart, ready to speak on these topics that may have never been discussed before. Being an advocate and working to right some corporate systemic wrongs has to be carefully managed, but can create a monumental difference in the future of corporate and professional America.
But you, lady, can’t do it alone. You can’t be an advocate for change without raising your voice and ensuring you have true allies in the workplace willing to walk alongside you.
Silence signals agreement or acceptance. Use your influence and your voice to take a stand... if not for yourself, for the future generations.