The first Black Canadian to obtain a law degree in Alberta
The first Black person admitted to the Alberta Bar
The first Black woman to become a lawyer in Canada
The first woman appointed to an executive position with the YMCA (US)
This impressive resume of firsts belongs to Alberta’s own, Violet King (1929-1982). The University of Alberta graduate broke through the glass ceiling that many women, especially women of color, still face today. As February is a month to celebrate and honor Black History in Canada, we want to acknowledge our support for Black women in leadership. Noting that all women are under-represented in leadership roles, Black women leaders are further under-represented in both the corporate and civic worlds.
“ A culture of equality is a multiplier. We can’t achieve a culture of equality if personal unconscious bias is not addressed first and foremost”
Look around your workplace, your leadership team, then look out to your elected officials at all levels of government, and it won’t take you long to recognize how few women have these leadership roles, and how very few are held by visible minority women. This should raise our attention to the unconscious biases that are so prevalent in our society, even though it has been proven time and again that a diverse workplace with a diverse leadership team makes us smarter, more creative and more impactful.
Each of us holds unconscious biases. It’s how our brains distill information. But so often, these biases are based on harmful stereotypes, which can become barriers for people. Ultimately, it’s up to each of us as individuals – as well as within our organizations – to learn how to recognize our biases, to make the unconscious conscious, and then to challenge these assumptions we make about people. Until we consciously dismantle these ideas, we can perpetuate stigmas and stereotypes that can prevent people from reaching their true potential. And when these ideas get baked into the DNA of our organizations, institutions and systems, the barriers can become systemic.
This is something that Harvard has been studying and raising awareness to this trend. Check out this link to see where your unconscious biases lie, you may be surprised with your results.
So how do we partner with and lift up our leaders, especially when they’re under-represented? What does allyship with our sisters-of-colour look like? Let’s start by first making sure we are not carrying our own unconscious biases. This TedTalk by Kristen Pressner is a great discussion about both gender and race biases. We highly recommend watching this quick eight-minute video as Pressner unpacks her “Flip It to test” self-check which essentially is a method for uncovering your own bias.
“Sometimes that bias is intentional and sometimes it’s unconscious, but it’s there and we can’t pretend it isn’t. And it’s not until we understand that we are all biased that we can actually begin to do something about it.”
Dr Wanda Costen
Understanding our biases is just the first step. There are many other things we can do to be allies. Amplifying the voices of women of colour – both on social media and in real life – is important. Providing space for women of colour to be leaders, inviting women of colour into decision-making spheres. Listening. Prioritizing the needs of women of colour. Doing your own research. Holding space for the experiences and emotions of women of colour. Supporting organizations that support women of colour. These are just a few things we can all do.
For a greater understanding of the challenges facing women of color here are some recommended reads:
- So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
- White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo
- What Works, Iris Bohnet
- Me and White Supremacy, Layla Saad
One of the most powerful ways to show support is to get out and support one of these great events:
by THE MUSLIM FEMINIST COLLECTIVE OF EDMONTON
Want to know more? Here are a few links about Black Women in leadership. These articles clearly underline the challenges women of colour experience across North American, and highlight the urgent need for us all to address our implicit biases.
- Diversity Leads – Women & Racialized People in Senior Leadership Positions (PDF)
- Women of Color Remain Severely Underrepresented in U.S. Workforce and on Boards
- No, Black Women Still Don’t Earn The Same As Their White Peers. Here’s Why.
- Minda Harts: 5 Big Challenges Women of Color Face in Securing a Seat at the Table
- Taking Our Seat at the Table: Black Women Overcoming Social Exclusion in Politics