Women in the workplace are often confronted with obstacles that impede their advancement to leadership positions. For women of color, visible minority women, and indigenous women, these obstacles are affected by the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, and gender. Conversations about how to dismantle these obstacles can be hard due to the complexity of the issues and the difficulty that can come in establishing trust across dimensions of difference.
However, we will not have truly inclusive work environments unless we work to shift paradigms and build positive approaches to address issues head-on. In an effort to #DisruptTheDefault and create change, Catalyst held a two-day Women of Color Summit on March 26 and 27, 2015, to set a vision for research and chart a course for future action for the advancement and inclusion of women of color at work. Participants came from academic, corporate, and community organizations and brought a range of experience, opinions, and ideas.
Dino E. Robusto, Executive Vice President, The Chubb Corporation, welcomed participants by stating the goals of the Summit, “Women of color bring important and competitively relevant knowledge and perspectives which can help organizations grow and improve by challenging long-held assumptions about operations, practices and strategies. Over the next day and a half, the context for our thinking is to move away from framing this issue in terms of overcoming barriers and obstacles for women of color, and to move toward positive approaches that leverage their unique strengths and personal assets.”
Participants took those words to heart, fully engaging with one another and coming out of the Summit with fresh perspectives, new goals, and a renewed sense of community and commitment to accomplishing our work together.
Read below for my three takeaways.
Mentorship and advocacy are critical to women of color, and it starts at a young age.
It’s important for all young women—regardless of race and ethnicity—to be exposed to positive examples of women of color. This will ensure they can have role models to look up to and advocates who not only create developmental opportunities but also drive change more broadly. “It is all about paying it forward. Breaking rules and paradigms. We must sit in a position to pay it forward,” said Ana Dominguez, President, Campbell Company of Canada.
If you really want to make a positive impact in a young woman’s life, show her examples of what she can accomplish if she dedicates herself. Leslie Morris, Founder & Executive Director, Women of The Dream, has used her organization to reach back and inspire young girls who come from crime-ridden neighborhoods. “Being a mentor goes beyond just meeting with your mentee at a local Starbucks,” she said. “Invite your mentee over for the holidays. Build a personal relationship with her. You’ll have a greater impact.”
Companies should expand programs that arm women of color with the specific skills they need to succeed in their careers.
As part of a session on dismantling roadblocks to change, Eve Haque, Associate Professor, York University, noted that, “We need to answer the question: How can we get at the structures that are embedded in our lives?…The problem is that women of color are expected to be the diversity, yet they are excluded because there is no change to the structures. What this looks like is that we are expected to “fit in” as a woman of color but also have to represent all diversity.”
Because women of color play on a field that is very skewed, organizations that take the time to truly focus on developing their skillsets will give them a fighting chance at success. “We need to demand that companies allocate money for development programs that cater to women of color,” said Ella L. J. Bell Smith, Associate Professor of Business Administration at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, and Founder & President of Ascent: Leading Multicultural Women to the Top.
Context matters just as much as identity.
There’s no doubt that women of color, like other marginalized groups, are confronted with roadblocks in the workplace, but there are differences among the obstacles that they face. When addressing these issues it’s important to take into account that not every experience is the same, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Beth Reingold, Associate Professor, Political Science and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Emory University, also noted, “There are no constants or universals; we can never assume one size (or remedy) fits all. Yet that doesn’t mean that everything’s random, completely unpredictable or idiosyncratic. Race and gender may interact in complicated and systematic ways. Our task is to understand and appreciate that complexity.”
Catalyst is tremendously grateful for all of the experts who participated in the Women of Color Summit, and the generous support of our sponsors.
Lead Sponsors: The Chubb Corporation and PepsiCo Foundation
Supporting Sponsors: Campbell Soup Company and Goldman Sachs
Host: Thomson Reuters