"Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women, who have their back."
This past week at the Ellevate: Challenges Facing Women of Color Today and in the Future event, I was humbled to sit in a room full of women who have this exact philosophy both personally and professionally. I listened to four women in leadership (Leliani Brown, Yai Vargas, Jennefer Witter, and Minda Harts), who spoke to their shared and unshared experiences. These women bravely and openly discussed the biases and barriers they’ve faced in the workplace not only as women, but as women of color. We all sat as one, nodding our heads in agreement, actively listening, and even laughing uncomfortably at the audacious situations women have had to face.
“Women of color are massively under-represented (and underpaid) in leadership, the executive suites, and on boards - not to mention their experiences are mostly overlooked in modern literature on women and leadership.”
Read that out loud, and take that in, not only are we under-represented, but overlooked! Yet, by 2060 we will be the majority in the workplace. As, I read that quote in the overview of the event before I attended, I grew angry yet felt empowered. I felt empowered because I know that I am not the only one. I am one of many women of color who feel a responsibility to take action for the sake of the future generations of women. Most importantly, I am one of many who want to ensure that we continue to have a shared voice.
The question during this discussion became how do we do this? How do we take action ? How do we stimulate change rather than appear to be gripe? How do we support one another? The simple answer and the consistent one across the board for each of our panelist was “each other”, use each other for help, use each other to dissect and reflect, use each other to learn from, use each other to motivate, and use each other as allies. There was not one response that was shared by our panelists that didn't include others in their responses.
“Include allies in the conversations. Bring people into the mix. Inclusion.” Yai Vargas.
“Have alliances, workplace alliances. Strong alliances are important.” Minda Harts
“I've had a number of mentors and sponsors either appointed to me by my company, or those who came organically. It’s really important to have champions, not necessarily people who have the power to get you a bump in a position or raise in salary, but someone who is going to be your champion who could keep you motivated and keep you going. I’ve surrounded myself with a lot of great champions who I could turn to and ask am I doing this right, am I crazy?” Yai Vargas
“Have a champion who is in a position to help you. A high level champion, a sponsor who can push you along and is in a position to support you, promote you and advocate for you, and have a number of those. We are not suggesting everyone can be in your cheerleading squad, but you want the high level sponsor and champion to help you along.” Leliani Brown
“Never stop networking, whether out of college or a 50 year old woman, you always need to network. Develop your own personal brand, so when people think about a great social media person or HR person they will think of you immediately. Build the brand and continue to adapt the brand to keep it fresh. An effective personal brand and network to help you get through the door.” Jennefer Wetter
“We need to own ambition. Tell people who we are versus having them tell us who we are. No one will know what you want until you tell them.” Leliani Brown.
“Make professional development your own responsibility, don’t necessarily put an increase in salary or promotion on your manager. Set up your own goals.” Yai Vargas
The key thing to overcoming the challenges that women of color face in the workplace will continue to be the need for support from “others”, no matter what experience, race, ethnicity, sex, age, job role, etc. We need humanity! We need humans to remember that we are in this together! We need the collective fight and the empathy of others. We can’t do this alone. There is so much left for us to accomplish, and while our voices have been louder than ever, they need to continue to be heard.
I challenge you, whether you’re a woman of color, or an ally, to be a part of the conversation, be someone who mentors someone else, be a part of someones growing network, be someone's champion and remember that our future generations depend on us to “move the needle” to inspire, and create change. This isn't a one person job, it’s “our job.”