In her 2015 Emmys acceptance speech, Viola Davis said “the only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity”.
The gap for women of colour is not just in terms of pay. We face a double glass cultural ceiling and face specific & unique barriers that prevent equality and advancement. Like Viola Davis said, we lack opportunity.
In all the conversations I’ve had with women of colour in Australia there are two key issues that consistently come up. The first being equality and the second being advancement. Women of colour get lost in the gender and cultural diversity conversation which tends to happen separately. That said, these barriers impact women of colour personally and professionally on numerous complex levels.
In a country that prides itself on giving everyone ‘a fair go’, I believe that we need targeted and tailored solutions to empower women of colour to dismantle the double glass cultural ceiling that they experience every day. It’s not just refugees or immigrants, but women of colour who are second and third generation Australians and Indigenous Australians.
To close the gap for women of colour here are three things we can all do:
1. Visualise with aspiration
Heres the truth, it is clear that what we are currently doing in the gender space and the cultural diversity space is not closing the gap for women of colour. We need to take it up a level and move the needle. No more vague policies or programs that do not put women of colour at the center from design to implementation. Start with the end in mind and work backwards. If you are a woman of colour doing ‘office housework’, don’t be afraid to aim high and ‘be it so others can see it’. Be ‘the first <insert role/dream>’ in your family, industry, sector, organisation.
2. Get outside the building
Some of the biggest barriers women of colour face is in the entry to middle management positions. Far too many opt to do the ‘office housework’ or are expected to do so because of unconscious bias. Cultural mindsets also need to evolve. For example some women of colour see pursuing a career as a masculine role. However, having someone senior sponsor and believe in you not only solves the pipeline issue for organisations but also enables you create mind-shifts by being able to see what is possible and to advance. Secondly, if your workplace sponsorship programs aren’t working for you, look at building and creating a network across organisations, industries, and sectors. As they say in business, ‘get outside the building!’. In November 2019, women of colour from around Australia will be coming together to participate in Australia’s first leadership and entrepreneurship conference and awards night for women of colour. ColourFULL 2019 will feature opportunities to find a sponsor, coach and or mentor as well as join a network and community of amazing women of colour. This is a great place to ‘get outside the building’ and develop networks, find opportunities to advance and build skills to close the gap as a community. You can click here or email us here for more information.
3. Communicate your value
Identify what your values, strengths and ‘personal brand’ is all about through a coach and or mentor. Build a Facebook page and publish articles on LinkedIn regularly and share them around your networks. Be known as an expert in your chosen field in order to be valued for who you truly are. Communicate your value consistently both internally and externally. You can do this by also working in different business units, projects and tasks that have high visibility across the organisation or externally. This keeps you front of mind for any job/promotion opportunities.
Communicating your value means you need to believe and trust in yourself. Communicate your value consistently and be your own biggest fan. The value that we bring to organisations is our cultural differentiation – how we perceive the world and approach leadership. As @badassboz says ‘take on the personal responsibility of diversifying every situation. I do want you to see my differences. You gonna see me boo, you gonna see all of this!”. Show up wholly as you are cultural differences, hair and all.
If you need help to advance as a woman of colour, or, if you are an organisation and want to close the gap for women of colour in your organisation, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to help and have a chat! If you are interested in the case for equality and advancement of women of colour in leadership, you can access more information here and here.
Winitha Bonney is a thought leader in the future of work and the advancement of women of colour. She is also the founder of Amina of Zaria, a digital media company for women of colour and has founded several other start-ups. She brings together over 17 years of experience and research in the future of work and the advancement of women of colour in leadership and entrepreneurship to create change and transformation for individuals and organisations.