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It turns out women of color aren’t exactly ‘benefitting’ from diversity initiatives

November 16, 2021, 9:11 PM UTC

A new report published today digs deep into the experience of women of color in the workforce. PowerHer: Women of Color Reimagining the World of Work, goes beyond data and analysis to provide real solutions distilled from the lived experiences of women of color at work. 

It is, in every sense, real talk.

The report is the result of a nearly year-long collaboration between nFormation, a membership-based community and platform for WOC leaders, and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative. The methodology included a survey of 1,500 professional women, 1,181 who were Black, Asian, Latina, Indigenous, Middle Eastern or multi-racial, along with 545 white women, along with moderated salon discussions.

I’m going to suggest you pour a cup of something soothing, put on your do-not-disturb, and spend some time with it.

Come for the topline findings from the survey that are unlikely to surprise you. Here’s a sample:

  • 61% of the women of color surveyed said that they’re not satisfied with their advancement;
  • 57% report hearing damaging stereotypes based on their background;
  • 58% don’t have a senior leader who looks like them and believe that’s impacted their career;
  • 70% report having to “prove themselves over and over again” every day;
  • 57% say that other people are taking credit for their ideas;
  • 92% say that companies must establish specific goals for hiring and promoting WOC into influential positions.

But stay for the quotes:

“We don’t even get diverse candidates despite the heat that is on diverse talent. We’ve got multiple recruiters, but if I’m honest and I look at the recruiters, I don’t think that they look very diverse themselves.”  — Asian executive

“Women of Color are competing with other Women of Color for a seat at the table and there’s only one broke-ass chair. And that’s the problem.” — Black executive

“It’s systemic. There’s often this belief that there’s only room for one of us at the table. And it often leads to environments that are even more toxic when you have a group of diverse women coming together at a workplace.”   — Latina executive

“Most company leaders at all levels have very low racial literacy or literacy about gender as well.” – Latina executive

The solutions section is equally clear-eyed — there’s a list of suggestions for companies, and a list of co-conspirators, and all are helpful. (My favorite for companies: Get Rid of Toxic Rock Stars. My favorite for co-conspirators: This Work is Hard— You Need to Release The Shame.)

While you’re digging in, keep an eye on nFormation, which is a little over year old. Co-founders Deepa Purushothaman and Rha Goddess had originally envisioned a safe space for women of color to access a library of resources, local event notification, a marketplace, and each other. Their ultimate aim is to give women of color an opportunity to redefine power and evolve the structures around them. 

“Meeting with WOC over the last few years has shown us the need for safe spaces, where we can hear and see each other, and learn from each other,” Purushothaman tells raceAhead. The former Deloitte executive— she was the first Indian American woman to make partner in the company’s history—says allies need to think of themselves as co-conspirators. This is their work, too, she says. “For example, the research shows we need better processes to report racist incidents when they happen, and to stop retaliation when WOC report. We didn’t create the system, and we need co-conspirators to reimagine with us to make work work for all of us.”

She points to the partnership with the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative as a blueprint. “It’s a white woman (Billie Jean King) and her organization saying, ‘we want to hear your voice, we want to work together, and we must unify if real change is to ever take place.’”

Ellen McGirt
@ellmcgirt
Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com

On Point

Librarians are the new resistance This dispatch from 19th News helps explain the new, and deeply political nature of the current call to ban certain books from school libraries. There have been a record number of new challenges recorded by the American Library Association—including Angie Thomas’s best seller The Hate U Give and Toni Morrison’s Beloved—many of which have become fodder during political campaigns. But some librarians are not having it. “They’re ignoring lawmakers’ requests to compile lists of books in their libraries that touch on race, gender, and sexuality issues,” reports Nadra Nittle. “They’re defending their book collection policies in the wake of legal threats, and, in some cases, they’re resigning in protest.”
19thNews

And in some cases, it’s the students themselves who are standing up to parents The book that brought angry parents to the Downers Grove North High School Board meeting in the Chicago suburbs is Gender Queer, a graphic novel that has been deemed “homoerotic” or “pornagraphic” by conservative activists. But students were on hand to defend the book. “This isn’t being forced upon your kids, but it gives kids who would be interested in this story a choice to read it,” said one 17-year-old.
Chicago SunTimes

The 1619 Project is now a book, so get ready What began as a special issue of the New York Times Magazine, a concerted attempt to reframe the teaching of U.S. history to better reflect race and slavery, is now coming to a classroom near you, possibly. "When you look at the world and you see all of the polarization and all of the tension, these narratives we've learned don't explain that," 1619 creator and Pulitzer Prize-winner Nikole Hannah-Jones said on Good Morning America. "When you give students a more accurate accounting of American history, not Black American history but American history, I think it is empowering for them to go out into the world." The magazine version drew both acclaim and ire and is the underpinning for the current debates about critical race theory and curriculum. "We're not responsible personally for what happened in the past but we are responsible for learning about it and learning from it and trying to do better right now."
Good Morning America

A Nike alum takes inclusion back to school And not just any school. Detroit-based Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design is the first HBCU in the country to focus on design and business, and was recently reopened after an enormous push led by former Jordan brand design director, D’Wayne Edwards. My colleague Nicole Gull McElroy caught up with Edwards to talk about his plans and the big problems he’s trying to solve with his work expanding his PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy. “In 1989, I was only the second Black footwear designer in the industry,” says Edwards, who has been at PENSOLE full-time since 2011. “In my whole 23 years professionally, that number grew to 75. Today, it’s about 180 or 190 Black footwear designers.”
Fortune

The first Asian American muppet is here Ji-Young, is a seven-year-old skateboarding Korean American muppet who will be introduced to the public in a special airing on HBO Max on Thanksgiving Day. (She’ll be hanging with her friends Simu Liu, Padma Lakshmi and Naomi Osaka.) Her puppeteer, Kathleen Kim, is also Korean American, who was first accepted into a Sesame Street workshop in 2014. But it’s clear Ji-Young already feels like she belongs. “So, in Korean traditionally the two syllables they each mean something different and Ji means, like, smart or wise. And Young means, like, brave or courageous and strong,” she told a reporter recently. “But we were looking it up and guess what? Ji also means sesame.”
Now This News

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

On background

Remembering a forgotten children’s book writer With so much crazy talk about banning books, I was delighted to stumble on this piece about Shirley Graham Du Bois, written by renowned Washington University Professor Gerald Early. She was the second wife of W.E.B. Du Bois, and wrote a fascinating series of children’s books about important Black historical figures. “The two Shirley Graham Du Bois books I taught were Your Most Humble Servant, Benjamin Banneker(1949), about the biracial colonial American clock and almanac maker, and Julius K. Nyerere, Teacher of Africa (1975), about the noted African leader and founding president of Tanzania,” Early says. “The books are complementary, of course: the first offering her view of aspects of the American founding and the latter her view of African independence and nation-building.” Du Bois herself was a fascinating figure, a musician and longtime activist who married Du Bois in 1951; the pair emigrated to Ghana in 1958. “It was acceptable for smart women to write children’s books because children’s books were not considered, in most literary circles, to be important literature. In hindsight, her biographies have more significance than many adult books of her era.”
The Common Reader

Growing up in a poor neighborhood is very bad for kids This is the findings of some new research published in n Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience that shows how neighborhood disadvantage impacts the development of growing brains leading to poor outcomes for children and adolescents. “A large portion of kids live in poor neighborhoods. Poor neighborhoods are areas where people generally have lower levels of income, employment, and education. Growing up in a poor neighborhood can be a source of stress for children, and is sometimes associated with cognitive problems and mental health issues in young people,” says lead researcher Divyangana Rakesh, a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. It’s still a new field, but better understanding might yield to helpful interventions.
PsyPost

Moodboard

We'll take it from here, Queen Gold medal winning Olympian Sunni Lee was pepper sprayed from a passing car while waiting for a ride after a night out with a group of friends, all AAPI. The passengers shouted racist slurs and told the women to “go back where they came from. "I didn't do anything to them, and having the reputation, it's so hard because I didn't want to do anything that could get me into trouble. I just let it happen."

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