This article is not the one originally planned for this newsletter. With the events that have unfolded over the last month regarding racism in America, I knew the plan needed to be changed. This article is going to be more personal than most, while still focusing on women in the workplace. I am a white woman and with that goes white privilege, that is not lost on me. I was born in 1950, when in my hometown you would see water fountains, bathrooms and pools marked “colored” or “white”. There were two black kids in my elementary school. That was my foundational environment. Fast forward twenty plus years later, I took a position as a Field and Camp Director with the Girl Scout Council in Southwest Georgia. Initially I met with black and white volunteers in my cities separately, because that was the way it had always been done. It was my goal to change that, and that was accomplished. It was also part of my mandate to have black girls and white girls occupy the same tents and cabins, without parents jerking their daughters out of camp. That was also accomplished. I have spent the last month asking myself what have I done lately, given it is 40 years later. Yes, I participated in some diversity and inclusion committees in the 80’s and 90’s and have offered programming at Dress for Success and sponsored seats at my workshops to DFS participants, many of whom are black. It is with a great deal of regret, shame and sadness that I can say, clearly, I have done nothing dramatic. This article starts with the premise, too little, too late.
This article is focused on racism for women in the workplace, not systemic racism in America. This is the focus because women in the workplace is my area of expertise and I do not see myself as qualified to address wider issues. Let’s take a look at some of the current startling statistics. We know women average 82 cents to a man’s dollar in wages in the workplace. For Black women, that number plummets to an average of 62 cents compared to a man’s dollar. In the 25 states with the largest numbers of Black women working full time, year-round, pay for Black women ranges from 47 to 67 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in those states. The disparity is shocking.
In times of turmoil and struggle I have always looked to my heroes for leadership. As a proud graduate of the University of Tennessee, one of my heroes was legendary basketball coach, Pat Head Summitt. She was an outspoken voice for Black athletes. Recently, I read an article about what she did and would do if she were still alive. Here is a quote from that article:
“As the women’s basketball world marks the four-year anniversary of Summitt’s death from Alzheimer’s disease on Sunday, Summitt’s former players believe her leadership would be valued now more than ever given the current climate of the country.”
You can read the article here.
What could your workplace be doing? Here is a list of action areas your company could consider:
- Create a statement of the company stance on racism, as the starting point.
- Create safe spaces for difficult conversations by an objective facilitator. It may be necessary to hire an outside consulting firm.
- Advise managers to be careful about putting employees on the spot in a public setting, when asking how they are. These types of intimate conversations must be private.
- Watch out for retaliation toward employees for speaking out about racism at work. It is hard enough to speak up, negative consequences are unacceptable.
- Give employees paid time off to take care of themselves, see a doctor or therapist during these very stressful times.
- Review performance evaluations for bias and needed language change.
- Review hiring practices for racial bias.
- Review every level of the organization for racial equity.
- Review the composition of the board of directors for racial equity.
When you see an area that is lacking: stand up, speak up, and band together! The stronger your privilege, the heavier your burden for responsibility. Do not miss Kay’s Corner for what you can do on a daily basis to combat racism in your workplace. If you already have ideas of how you want to be part of the solution but are a little uneasy about how to proceed, please call me a (513) 561-4288 or email me at Kay@highheeledsuccess.com .