For the last year, I’ve had the honor of creating and leading the Authentically Me Fellowship with my friend and scholar Rachel Vicente. This six-week virtual fellowship prioritizes supporting and developing women of color as they interrogate the systemic barriers to being their authentic self. They do this alongside a cohort of other women of color where they reflect and take action steps in community.
In the three times during the year that Rachel and I host the fellowship, I’m always blown away by the growth each woman in the cohort experiences. Many begin the fellowship while in the midst of working in toxic, biased, and anti-Black work spaces. The personal stories that are shared about their individual experiences in the workplace always reinforce why I started ShiftED Consulting: to eradicate racism and anti-blackness from organizations, so that women of color can thrive and live safe, joy-filled lives. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review by Agatha Agbanobi and T. Viva Asmelash on psychological safety and Black women in the workplace reminded me of why, and how so many organizations are still failing to provide the Black women on their teams with the experience of safety that they deserve.
The dynamic alumna of the fellowship have faced biased and racially aggressive moments in the workplace that can be difficult to bounce back from. Experiences like being underestimated and passed over on promotions in favor of White colleagues, or being reprimanded for speaking up for themselves can create a cycle of shame, fear, and anxiety.
When examining the state of your organization’s culture to determine how well you’re living up to your own principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, considering how safe, especially psychologically, women of color feel while working there is paramount. Before beginning your journey to abolishing anti-Blackness and White supremacy in your organization, it’s important to think about what brought you to that moment in the first place. There are likely experiences that the women of color on your team have had that were deeply damaging, but have been swept under the rug or inadequately handled by leadership. You can begin to repair those harms and create a safe space through actions like the following:
Take a Reparative Justice Approach
Reparative justice means to approach diversity, equity, and inclusion work in a way that centers those who have been harmed, stops harms that are currently happening, and prevents harm from occurring in the future. Offering healing or mental health benefits that can support the women of color on your team in their healing journeys can be a key step in taking ownership of the damage caused, and laying the conditions for said harm to be repaired.
Be a Disruptor of White Supremacy Culture In Real Time
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from the Authentically Me Fellowship is how absent and disconnected White colleagues choose to be from the experiences of the women of color on their team. While many White folks consider themselves to be allies, few women of color would say that they feel the benefits of said allyship.
Creating a workspace that is psychologically safe for women of color means disrupting moments of racial aggression and bias in real time. Gaining the knowledge and language of equity and inclusion does not at all equate to actually taking action to dismantle said system. Observe how bias and discrimination unfolds in your organization, and speak up as it is happening.
Power and oppressive dynamics in organizations are only shifted when harms are acknowledged, and action taken to repair them in real time. With intention and concerted action, uprooting White supremacy culture and racial bias in the workplace is possible.