In the last few months, we have seen an incredible amount of activism on foot and across social media as companies, influencers, and everyday people have grown more vocal in sharing words of encouragement, support, and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Words like “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” are trending, Black-owned business sales are climbing, and books centered around themes like white fragility and racial equity work continue to be sold out in many places.
White colleagues and friends have reached out through text, DMs, and email channels to share their shock and sadness around the many ways in which racism manifests in our society and inflicts harm on Black people. While the emotional check-ins often come from a well-meaning place, it can add extra strain for Black women who often wear the added burden of emotional labor when fielding inquiries, educating our peers, and assuaging white guilt in social and professional spaces. Add that to multiple committee engagements, ad hoc diversity assignments in addition to our core job responsibilities (with little to no added compensation or promotion), engaging in our community, parenting, partnering, and living, it can often leave us burned out and stretched extremely thin.
As a Black woman, I have found myself checking in with other Black women in my social and professional network more often lately to ask: “Are you OK, sis? Are you getting these eerily templated messages too?” I’ve been playing Solange’s “Weary” on repeat, because it speaks to my soul on a deeper level than ever before these days too: I’m weary for the ways of the world.
In an age where it seems cool to be “woke,” many of my Black friends and colleagues find ourselves fatigued by performative allyship. True allyship is not a label you can pick up and put on like a shawl or accessory. Outside of these social media streets, it requires that the video match the audio. In other words, your actions need to align with your words.
If you’re a non-Black person looking to move from ally to accomplice, consider these four actionable steps to incorporate inclusive practices in your workplace and activate your sphere of influence to support Black women at work.
1. Examine your bias, do your own work
The first step to activating true allyship at work and supporting Black women is to dig into the personal work of identifying and challenging your own biases against Black women. This is urgent and continual work and the foundation of your ability to effectively show up for us.
While Black women are not a monolith, microaggressions are a casualty of being a #BlackWomenatWork daily. If you do not have genuine or close personal relationships with Black women, you may unintentionally facilitate microaggressions that cause harm. It is critical work to understand what they are, adopt strategies to address them, and lean into the discomfort of being better tomorrow than you were today.
The women’s movement has made great strides for the representation of many women across industry sectors and in leadership positions, yet Black women continue to face a unique challenge in the workplace due to the intersectionality of race and gender. Also known as a double bias or double jeopardy, to be Black and woman in professional spaces is complex and challenging in nuanced ways.
2. Show us your pay
Understanding the intersection of race and gender and creating transparency around pay within your organization is key to creating equitable and engaged workplaces for all. Black women are consistently overrepresented in the numbers of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees earned in the U.S., yet our financial standing on average does not reflect our achievements.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Black women won’t receive full pay equity compared to white men until the year 2119, if we continue to make progress toward closing the wage gap at the current pace. That’s one hundred years away from today. For purposes of comparison, white women are tracking to receive pay equity to white men in the year 2055.
Normalizing conversations around market rate salaries, salary negotiation practices, and the wage gap will bring us closer to a society and culture in which Black women can not only make informed decisions around the job search, but truly achieve parity and economic freedom for ourselves, our families, and our communities.
The wage gap is directly tied to economic mobility and freedom. Read about it, talk about it, and normalize wage transparency within your organization. Start with your team—once the conversation is normalized on your team and across your organization, we can begin to close the wage gap and shorten the runway between today and achieving true gender equity across race and class.
3. Sponsor rising stars and advocate for your colleagues
While the power of mentoring is critical to personal and professional success, research shows that the real secret sauce to accelerating Black women’s careers lies in activating both strong mentor and sponsor relationships in the workplace.
Mentors are the people you trust to share wise counsel, insight, and advice. Sponsors, on the other hand, are people with the social and political capital that can advocate on your behalf for career success by endorsing you when you aren’t in the room, recommending you for stretch projects and leadership roles, and amplifying your career wins and long term growth potential to the people that are key decision-makers.
What does sponsorship look like in action? Start a program within your organization that connects Black women to senior leaders in a meaningful way. Go to coffee with a Black woman whose work you admire, and get to know them better—not for personal gain or to pick their brain. Introduce them to people in your network you think they should know and vice versa.
Facilitating warm connections and relationships is key to advocating for Black women at work. These intentional actions can make a huge impact on the trajectory of someone’s career.
4. Pass the mic and amplify voices
Whether or not you have the professional cache to be a true sponsor of someone’s work, you can always opt in to advocate for peer colleagues by shouting out good work when you see it, acknowledging their contributions in meetings, and being mindful of giving credit where credit is due.
It literally costs you nothing to mention good work when you see it, and it can shift the culture of acknowledgement, amplification, and positive feedback for the Black women in your professional network.
Been invited to speak on a panel or keynote? Ask event organizers what the speaker lineup looks like—is it diverse across race and gender identities? If not, consider leveraging your privilege to make a suggestion, referral, or request for the speaker lineup to include broader representation. Share speaking opportunities so the Black women experts you know can expand their reach, make extra coins, and affirm their experience in industry.
Consider these actionable steps the next time you are wondering how to move from ally to accomplice for the Black women you work with and know. Let’s move the needle on amplifying the talent of Black women at work and in your community.
When Black women win, everyone wins.
This article was first published on June 23, 2020, and has been updated for timeliness.