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Feminism Isn’t Just for White Women

When the women I coach with Rachel Vicente through our Authentically Me Fellowship begin to reflect on the traumatic experiences they’ve had with supervisors, there’s one conclusion that each cohort easily comes to: the worst experiences they’ve had in the workplace almost always involve a white woman. 

It’s an epiphany that’s unfortunately learned in hindsight after the damage has been done and years' worth of trauma already inflicted. Women are often taught to brace themselves for sexism from men in the workplace, and while the patriarchy still rears its ugly head, it frequently uses white women as its primary enforcers. 

The chasm between white women and women of color in the workplace is an unspoken tension that leaves women of color unsupported and vulnerable to racial abuse while white women remain protected under the veils of both their fragile whiteness and femininity. white tears, offense, and emotions supersede the tangible pain that so many women of color experience while on the job. 

You can see, then, how women of color feel a deep discomfort at the prospect of a month that attempts to unite all under the banner of womanhood when the corporate world (and society at large) only cherishes womanhood when its representatives are white. 

So when March brings Women’s History Month celebrations, what can your company do to ensure that women of color are included? It’s essential to keep a few things in mind:

Feminism Isn’t Only for White Women

As an adolescent and young adult, I was staunchly against feminism Knowing that Susan B. Anthony and other leaders of the feminist movement were vehement racists, I didn't see a space for myself in feminism as a Black woman.

In attempts to create multi-racial, communal celebrations for women at work, keep in mind that many women of color do not adhere to the ideals that white feminism espouses. ‘Girl boss’ and ‘lean in’ culture have done more harm to Black and Brown women by further othering them in the workplace and making them responsible for their mistreatment. 

You can call in women of color to this month’s celebrations by being intentional about the language and optics of any events you’re holding, ensuring that Blackness isn’t an afterthought or outlier of the experience you’re providing. 

Create a safe space to address these differences head-on. The avoidance of the subject matter only continues the status quo and keeps the white women at your company safe and protected in their limited beliefs. Demonstrate to the women of color on your team that you understand the pain they can experience in all women’s space by providing a facilitator or coach with the range to tackle this dialogue head-on. 

Representation Matters – As Long As It’s Safe 

I’ve already seen fliers floating around for corporate Women’s History Month celebrations and panel discussions that have not one Black woman involved. While I’ve said before that representation in DEI work is often over-emphasized, this is one area where it’s useful. 

You can demonstrate your understanding that women from different races/ethnicities and sexual orientations have the autonomy to define their womanhood for themselves by giving them the space to do just that. If your programming and conversations are not reflecting the teams you’re working with, go back to the drawing board. ASAP. 

What’s Your Work Culture Like for Women Beyond March?

When the spotlight moves on from Women’s History Month, what’s left at your organization? Are you retaining women of color? Are women of color promoted and supported in senior leadership positions? Do you have policies and compensation practices that allow women of color to thrive?

While labor can mean different things to different people, if you’re finding that most of the women of color on your team feel deeply disconnected from their role, it’s time to examine what in your culture is causing them to pull away and feel unable to show up as their authentic selves. 

Women’s History Month can be the starting point of building a working culture that values, retains, supports and rewards the women of color at your company. Schedule a consultation with ShiftED Consulting to begin your journey today! 

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