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How to Be an Ally to Women of Color at Work

The recent killing of George Floyd has put racism in America under the microscope and ignited global calls for change, leading many to examine the deep-rooted injustices that exist in our society not only when it comes to police brutality, but in all areas of life including the workplace.

As stated by Women of Color for Progress, “Being an ally is not an identity to wear – it’s not a noun, but rather a verb,” and the actions you take matter. If you don’t identify as a woman of color, how can you use your power and privilege to combat racism and foster inclusivity in your organization?

Today we’re sharing 6 ways to be a more intentional, action-oriented ally to women of color.

Educate Yourself

“It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.” – Thomas Sowell

If you don’t understand your privilege and aren’t aware of the many forms of racism WOC face, how can you combat them? Quite simply, you can’t. Acts of exclusion may not be intentional – but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Good intentions aren’t good enough.

It’s your responsibility to educate yourself and reveal your blind spots so that you can be a better colleague and cultivate an environment that allows everyone to thrive.

Where to begin? There are several great resources that can help you develop a deeper understanding of white privilege, racism, and racial inequality.

A few that we recommend are:

Examine and Acknowledge Your Own Biases

All of us carry unconscious biases shaped by our culture, society and personal experiences. Racism isn’t always obvious when viewing situations and behaviors from a lens of privilege. Microagressions are a more subtle, indirect and often unintentional form of racism that can take the form of an insensitive joke or offhand comment. An example is labeling a black woman at work as “unprofessional” for wearing her hair natural.

It’s each of our responsibility to ask for honest feedback and listen with openness to how our behavior affects others. Then we need to hold ourselves accountable for improving.

Amplify Black Voices and Listen

When it comes to leading conversations about racism and issues that affect minority communities, don’t use your privilege to speak for women of color. Instead give them a platform to take the lead and be heard. Actively listen to the perspectives of WOC to gain more in-depth insight into their experiences.

Furthermore, make it a priority to seek out diverse perspectives on all issues. It’s not enough for WOC to simply have a seat at the table. As Netflix’s D&I Director Verna Myers said, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Provide Support Through Sponsorship

Despite 81% of black women indicating they want to work towards a high-ranking position, only 4% of C-suite positions are held by women of color. For women of color, even a prestigious degree from the Ivy League has little effect on career advancement.

What has been proven effective in advancing WOC leaders? Sponsorship.

As stated by the Harvard Business Review, “while a mentor is someone who has knowledge and will share it with you, a sponsor is a person who has power and will use it for you.”

Creating opportunities for women in your organization to be matched with high-level executives who will vouch for them when it comes to high-stakes assignments or promotions is critical.

If you are a person in a position of power in your organization, consider becoming a sponsor.

If you’re not in a position to be a sponsor or your company won’t support a sponsorship program, look for opportunities to make meaningful introductions or create networking opportunities for WOC.

Speak Up and Lead By Example

When you notice wrong behavior by others in your organization – intentional or not – call it out! Many women of color often face the challenge of not only being the only woman in the room, but also the only person of their race. Fear of backlash or “making a big deal” out of a situation can lead many WOC to stay silent.
As an ally, you’re less likely to face repercussions for speaking out, so use your voice! Confront racist or sexist actions and explain why they’re inappropriate.

In meetings, make sure that women of color are given an opportunity to speak without interruption, that their ideas are acknowledged and that they receive full credit for their contributions.

Leave Your Ego At the Door and Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

If someone points out that you’ve made a mistake, avoid becoming overly defensive or responding to the criticism as a personal attack. Instead see it as an opportunity for open dialogue, learning, and growth. Being willing to get out of your comfort zone and have open conversations about race is critical to understanding your privilege as well as the perspective and experiences of others. Being an ally is an on-going effort that requires continued listening and learning. Understand that you’ll never be perfect but keep showing up and doing your best anyway.

We challenge you to use your privilege as a force for positive change by creating opportunities for those with less access to power and resources to be heard, supported, and advanced. Together we will do more, and we will do better.

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Essential resources for women leaders

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