As I sat down to write an article about how much I enjoy supporting executive women who want to make bold moves, I thought, I should look up some compelling statistics about female execs.
What I found surprised me. And yet, not really.
I think we can agree, both qualitatively and quantitatively, that black women can’t catch a break at work. Not at most levels and not at the executive level.
Having just completed Georgetown University’s Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Program, the obstacles have been made even more clear, unfortunately.
Of course, black women can’t catch a break at work.
These systems — you know, the organizational ones, the ones that contain our policies, processes (and a ton of biases – both covert and overt) — these systems weren’t designed to allow black women to catch a break. Quite the contrary.
It reminds me of what Ava Duvernay, Executive Director of When They See Us said about the criminal justice system;
it’s a “system that’s not broken, it was built to be this way.”
Same goes for so many enterprise-level corporate systems. These are not systems that want black female power at the top, not really.
The article went on to include a seemingly innocuous report of pipeline data that says America has a long way to go when it comes to the inclusion and advancement of black women executives.
When I clicked the link, I landed on a related article that squarely correlated a black woman’s ability to find a way to get exposure to those in power to her ability to actually achieve power.
Black women can achieve power in corporate America, if we get real about the barriers we’re facing, if we’re united in our quest to overcome them, and if we’re willing to engage advocates and allies to help us get there.
I agree we need black women to share their real experiences and I also wonder, isn’t insisting that black women open, or lead those conversations in systems that aren’t designed to recognize them (ones in which they’ll meet resistance) isn’t that placing a double (or even triple) burden of responsibility on them?
What I’m suggesting here is that we need to stop expecting black women to break down barriers and seek us out. We need to seek them out. We need to engage first, we need to learn how. And we need to chip away at systems whenever we can on their behalf.
For example, which allies do we expect black women to approach? White women? White men?
Let’s talk about asking black women to engage white women at work, for example. If we look at social group dynamics, based on some conversations I’ve had with black professional women, white women haven’t always been so open to sharing solutions or even helping black women achieve leadership roles, and that’s an understatement.
What I’m also suggesting is that access to power doesn’t equal achieving it. Not until the system changes. While the pretense of allyship may be there, the data shows black women aren’t getting hired into those infrequent, often coveted leadership roles.
So, are we being true allies? Is that allyship having a true impact? How can we do better?
In construction, stability begins with the foundation. The foundations of a bridge are of critical importance since they must support the entire weight of the bridge and the weight of what is carried upon it.
For those of us with social group privilege, it is our responsibility to create foundations that can support the weight of what our black female counterparts must carry. We must build the bridge.
We need to initiate the conversations and create the foundation for safe, stable pathways to allow the truth of black voices to not just be heard, but understood, embraced, and actioned, so black women can get to the other side. That’s how more black women will get hired.
That’s how we’ll bridge the gap.
I hope this article is a step in that direction.
By Tracy Saunders.
Original article was published here.