There's a new 'club' in town!
On March 8th, my Dad phoned me to wish me a “happy Women’s Day”. It was a short call, made with purpose, but without pomp. As a woman working to help other women achieve balance and growth in today’s ever-changing world, I see acknowledgment and awareness as the first steps toward equality. I doubt he realized the significance of his small gesture (in fact, I know he didn’t!), but in that moment, he was my Dad, a man, and an ally.
Whether at work, within the Women’s movement or LGBTQ community, we have got used to hearing the term ‘ally’ – a sympathizer in the most traditional sense. When you’re in a minority or disenfranchised group, the norms aren’t set by you, you can easily be made an outsider and to feel like you don’t belong. Having allies provides strength in numbers; increasing awareness of your value, legitimizing your norms to the ‘unsympathetic’ and giving the necessary emotional support when times get tough. Advocating for yourself without that support is physically and mentally draining.
I recently had the pleasure of hosting a ‘Women with Purpose’ event on the merits of Resilience. Women of Purpose is an organization that works to empower and unite women of color in the greater Boston area through Professional Development seminars. The camaraderie and wisdom within our group were second to none, but I was saddened to learn the commonality of our shared experience:
Being a professional Women, and Of Color, we share an innate sense of resilience. But not that enlightened, empowered resilience you hear of, our resilience had become a weary muscle; we felt tough, yet exhausted in equal measure.
On hearing this reality, I realized the problem: Did we forget to tell society that women of color need allies too?
As women, we encounter barriers at every point of the talent development pipeline. Hiring practices benefit men, entry-level roles will likely have different attributes depending on whether it’s fulfilled by a man or a woman, promotions benefit men, even ‘cultural fit’ can be defined as an accepted way of saying ‘gets on with the men in the office’. It has been commonplace to recognize these inequalities.
For women of color, you can double those barriers to account for race. And then there are often further differences that go hand-in-hand; socio-economic upbringing, outside interests, food and beverage preferences, all useful fodder to help us connect with others. The barrier of Cultural difference in the workplace is real. And with it, comes the scrutiny that comes with being the ‘only’.
“…black women suffer a double burden of bias that keeps
them from the uppermost levels of corporate leadership.”
- McKinsey & Company, ‘Delivering through Diversity’ (2018)
Coming of age in a professional environment, I remember other women being my toughest critics. These weren’t deep-rooted or public criticisms and my older self knows they were nonsensical… an invite not shared, a request that probably should have been made of someone else, or a look, a look that suggested that I wasn’t being clear or at least, my meaning wasn’t being understood… all things that chip away at your confidence and make you second-guess yourself. Worse still, we have often perpetuated the same behaviors that have made us feel undermined.
But times have changed. I heave a sigh of relief knowing that women now see the need to advocate for other women. We’re stronger together, when we support what we each bring to the table – allies! However, my recent experience showed me that the ‘club’ of Women Allies still appears to be one of exclusivity. We advocate for women that are like us. That we connect with. That we see ourselves in. And that’s not the point.
As we work to shape a world in which our children will thrive, we must take responsibility for the environments that our presence creates. What we don’t do counts as much as what we do. So notice when someone not like you is being judged, singled out or ignored inappropriately, or is just having a rough time of it and needs to know they aren’t alone. Notice it, and correct it. It’s this behavior change that nudges us that little closer to inclusive cultures where we all feel respected for who we are.
To belong is a human need, where you know your value and feel able to achieve it. When workplaces are equitable, the physical and metaphorical barriers of difference melt away so we can do our best work. It starts with each of us and we all have a role to play, so if it hasn’t been said yet, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge our new reality:
There’s a new club in town, and I’m pleased to say, we’re all part of it!