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Elevating Female Voices of Color in the Social Good Sector

Elevating Female Voices of Color in the Social Good Sector

Organizations addressing the social good are often established through old, inherited wealth and power networks. This is a disadvantage for women and persons of color, who are new arrivals to well-established philanthropic and charitable corporations.

Moreover, women often work under a cloak of invisibility and a code of silence. This imbalance is increasingly obvious when you consider the women of color working in the third sector and leading hospitals, nonprofits, housing, and community development organizations.

Women of color often feel invisible at work, and justifiably so. Research has shown black women’s statements were remembered less quickly and less accurately than those of their white female and male peers. This type of unconscious bias often makes dealing transparently with race and work relationships difficult.

[Related: Time To Call Out The Microaggressions That Are Holding Us Back]

Robin DiAngelo addresses the need for this complex conversation in her bestselling book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. DiAngelo asserts the first meaningful step for well-intentioned white people doing anti-racist and social justice work is to recognize their fragility around racial issues:

When we try to talk openly and honestly about race, we are [so] often met with silence, defensiveness, argumentation, certitude, and other forms of pushback.

To explain this phenomenon, she coined the phrase "white fragility." This fragility makes authentic conversation regarding race, mentorship, sponsorship, and promotion difficult when it comes to the contributions of women of color. These conversations surrounding the lack of diversity tend toward for-profits, such as giant technology companies, and away from not-for-profit and purpose-driven organizations.

Women of color do not lack leadership potential, and they are leading the nation in rates of education. Research shows that when women are not allowed to assert their natural abilities at work, what could have been healthy competition can mutate into secret feelings of envy and desire for the other to fail – laced with guilt and shame.

So how can women in leadership move past racial fragility, unconscious bias, and overt racism to amplify the voices of women of color and empower them to make meaningful contributions that honor their experience and expertise to the social good?

Offer opportunities to build relationships.

Organizations must offer mentorship and sponsorship opportunities that pair women of color with senior-level employees who can help them navigate their careers.

A formal sponsorship program can be effective, but if that doesn’t work for your organization, you can also create additional networking opportunities to give women of color the chance to cement meaningful relationships.

Give yourself a break and own your bias.

Having unconscious biases doesn’t make you a bad person. After all, they were formed in an unconscious process based on external information starting way back in early childhood.

Routinely and rapidly sorting people into groups gives rise to unconscious bias, but is a normal aspect of human cognition. Understanding this strategy of categorization can help you identify patterns of thought, unjust and uninformed standards you may hold, and teach you to approach your biases in a more informed way.

Look for issues through assessments.

Survey your team to find out what’s going on in the workplace. Talk with employees, particularly women and minorities, to ask them what biases they have witnessed in the organization and the effects these have had on their careers.

Confront the conversation. Ask women of color if they feel their gender and ethnicity negatively affects their ability to make meaningful contributions and connections.

[Related: 5 Ways To Build Courage And Competence For Difficult Conversations]

Present diversity to challenge internal bias.

One of the biggest barriers toward a thriving, diverse community is stereotype threat - the unconscious tendency to fulfill the “prophecy” of stereotypes held against them. Leaders can challenge this self-fulfilling prophecy in their front lines by demonstrating inspirational individuals and role models of diverse identities.

Encourage a diverse range of leaders to speak at company events, and ensure that visual representations of successful individuals are broadly representative. A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology showed women performed better in public speaking and evaluated themselves more positively when they were primed with images Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel than when they saw Bill Clinton or weren't shown images at all. Seeing is believing.

Social good requires impact that enhances the life of a cause or agenda. Ensuring women of color - and every other identity group - are represented in the workplace and are able to contribute to the social good at their highest capacity is a good all people should embrace.

[Related: Advancing Women Advances Business]

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As the founder and CEO of the Alchemist Agency, Dr. Joynicole Martinez builds the capacity of purpose-driven organizations, corporations, and executives. With more than twenty years of experience providing training and development, strategic planning, performance management, fund development, and grant writing services, she is passionate about moving people and companies from purpose to impact.


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