According to this article by Catalyst.org, Quick Take: Women of Color in the United States, women of color will be the majority of women by 2060. Yet, statistically, women of color are underpaid and underrepresented in leadership. In fact, April 2nd is often referred to as “Equal Pay Day”, symbolizing how far into the new year a woman must work to earn the equivalent of her male counterpart the year before. Yet, for African American women, this “Equal Pay” date is actually August 22. For Native American and Latina Women, this date falls on September 23 or November 20—almost an entire year later.
Women of color also often experience tumultuous career trajectories or face subconscious biases during the hiring process. According to a 2018 report from Forbes, while women-owned businesses grew 58% between 2007-2018, businesses started by black women during the same time increased 164%. On the surface these numbers seem praise-worthy and a trend to become excited about, but a more dismal outlook regarding those statistics is entrepreneurship may seem like the best alternative for black women who feel limited in their careers by inequity and lack of inclusion.
This data encourages us to look at belonging at work and development in a very inclusive way. Six years ago, I became one of the growing numbers of women of color who chose entrepreneurship over attempting to navigate the corporate setting. During that time, I have researched, coached, and spoken to women globally about their experiences at work. My work has shown me that employers can make a real difference in the lives of their people through intentional decisions and actions by adapting to the needs of our employees before losing them.
I would like to propose a framework for meeting these needs that would optimize employee experiences for women of color in the workplace. To relate the framework to a current example, I will share what I did to support women of color through my Talent Think Power Circle.
Last year, as a result of my discussion on my livestream show, “Ask Czarina Live” about the disparities women of color face, several of my viewers expressed wanting a safe space where they could network with other women of color while learning in a curated environment based on their interests. I revived my Talent Think Power Circle for 2019 to address the developmental gaps and networking deficits many women of color experience and to focus on finding and implementing real solutions.
I believe you can make a real difference in the lives of your people and start being a better and more intentional ally to women of color at work. Here is what I did:
- Ask more questions. I sent out an intake form to the women who expressed interest in my Talent Think Power Circle cohort. This allowed me to get to know them both as a collective and as individuals. One-size-fits approaches to development programs are not sustainable and can be insulting.
- I solicited for other women of color who were looking for similar coaching, networking and learning opportunities. I tripled my numbers just from putting a few social posts out there along with a link to my intake.
- I analyzed the information and data I received back and drew some conclusions about what I needed to build based on what these women shared with me.
- I went back to the group with that data and provided them with a soft framework for the program I would build. I also asked them for their concurrence on the conclusions I drew from what they shared.
- When I got the green light from every woman in the group, I refined my framework and launched my platform in February with a 7-week program that worked with their schedules and allows for them to learn on demand via recorded sessions and saved presentations.
- Every week we convened for an hour on video and explore a new topic. I have also asked some of the women to teach some of the sessions to give them an opportunity to show off their knowledge and leadership skills.
- These women are at various stages in their careers. Some came for personal growth and sisterhood, others came for guidance on how they work towards building their own empires. Every one of them has one thing in common. They haven’t felt seen or heard at work and this is fulfilling that void for them.
We wrapped the mini-academy phase of the power circle on March 26th and this is just the beginning of how I plan to support this group of women’s growth.
The next phase is soliciting information from the ladies about their experiences and crafting the path forward for our work together. The keys here are co-creation and collaboration. When you build what is in demand you never have to worry about whether or not it will be adopted.
Ask yourself, could something like this transform your own learning and development initiatives for women of color and beyond? If yes, what is preventing you from engaging your workforce in a meaningful way? Technology is incredible, but this kind of interaction requires the human factor. When you truly care and are dedicated to solutions, not prolonging a problem, everyone wins.
I believe many leaders and organizations would like to see change happen, but think it will be costly. I stand as a testament that it will cost you nothing more than a caring heart and a willingness to roll up your sleeves to ensure that change happens, not just for subsets of the workforce, but for everyone.