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Black women leaders fighting racism and discrimination at work

Ceylin Güven
February 2, 2023

Despite facing numerous obstacles, Black women leaders have been continuing the fight to break barriers and fight racism in the workplace. For Black History Month, we'll look at the prevalent issues related to racism at work, and share the inspiring stories of some women who are making a difference in the fight against racism and discrimination towards Black people and minority groups in the workplace.

What is Black History Month?

Black History Month is an annual commemoration month celebrated in the United States and Canada. Originally started in 1926 as a week-long celebration by American historian Carter G. Woodson, it was later expanded into the whole month of February. It aims to celebrate and recognize the contributions and accomplishments of Black people–both historical, and contemporary. Keep in mind that, while acknowledging the successes, it’s also important to highlight the challenges that black people face still to this day. Black History Month is an opportunity to create discussions about racism, oppression, and discrimination, while also promoting inclusion, equality, and racial diversity.

Challenges Black professionals face in the workplace today

77% of Canadian POC workers state that they expect racial discrimination in the workplace, and actively prepare themselves for it. In fact, this systematic racism is often so damaging that it drives black workers to move away from the workplace towards solo work. Racist acts can take many forms, such as:

  • Discriminatory assumptions about race
  • Unhealthy and toxic work environments
  • Microaggressions and unconscious bias
  • Prejudice related to stereotyping and tokenism
  • Racial harassment, hate speech, etc.
  • Unfair wage gaps
  • A higher likelihood of negative performance evaluations and disciplinary actions
  • Inadequate support and resources
  • Limited access to professional development and training

Another important and related challenge is limited career advancement opportunities. Black workers are “overrepresented in low-wage entry-level jobs and underrepresented in senior leader and executive roles”, says CNBC’s Courtney Connley. They work predominantly in retail and customer service jobs, with minimal opportunities for job growth. Resultantly, 43% of black workers in the US private sector earn about $30,000/year, compared to only 29% in other groups. This wage gap is the cause of major financial anxiety for many black professionals.

Creating an anti-racist work culture

According to The Harris Poll, 70% of all employees experience decreased productivity and motivation when their workplace doesn’t have anyone with the same racial/ethnic background as them, especially in managerial positions. This shows the importance of inclusivity, and necessitates creating anti-racism in the workplace programs.Combating workplace racism and promoting diversity will have many positive results: Feelings of psychological safety, improved mental health, increased retention rates, better efficiency and productivity, etc. Managers need to take responsibility and focus on improving workplace conditions to ensure equality for everyone.   Here are some of the key methods employers can implement to combat racism and discrimination in the workplace:

  • Don’t shy away from holding conversations about the subject & encourage everyone to speak up
  • Prioritize DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion)
  • Employ strong anti-racism and anti-discrimination policies
  • Assess your staff diversity rates & prioritize hiring underrepresented workers
  • Get consistent feedback from black employees about whether your measures are helpful, if they feel safe, etc.
  • Provide diversity training for all employees, managers, and hiring/HR professionals
  • Create comprehensive and inclusive benefits packages for employee wellbeing
  • Encourage POC workers to join communities for additional support  
  • Consider getting help from Black-led organizations for more informed and impactful solutions

Black women fighting towards inclusive workplaces

Here is a list of Black women professionals who are fighting racism and sexism, and advocating for racial diversity in the workplace:

Elizabeth Leiba

Elizabeth Leiba is a full-time design and innovation director at City College, along with being an author, podcaster, and activist fighting systemic racism in the workplace. She was named among the Top Voices of LinkedIn in 2019 for her advocacy efforts. Her podcast “Black Power Moves” aims to empower black professionals. Leiba’s recent book entitled “I’m Not Yelling: A Black Woman’s Guide to Navigating the Workplace” is an extensive guide for female black workers trying to survive under (and break) the glass ceiling. She is also the founder of Black History & Culture Academy, which has 50+ unique certificate courses on diversity, racial equity, and African American history.

Natasha Bowman

Natasha Bowman is consultant and public speaker, who was among the 2022 LinkedIn Top Voices for mental health. She founded and ran Performance ReNEW, a consulting firm for talent management, development, and organization guidance. She also recently co-founded The Bowman Foundation, which is a nonprofit working on workplace culture and mental health issues with a focus on black workers.

Dr. Janice Gassam Asare

Dr. Janice Gassam Asare holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology, and is using that knowledge as a renowned anti-racism educator. Asare is recognized as one of the top educators on LinkedIn for racial diversity. She has two best-selling books, hosts a podcast, is a keynote speaker (including on TedX), and has written over 400 articles for Forbes and Business Insider. She is also the founder of BWG Business Solutions LLC, an organization that employs workplace diversity solutions. Her multifaceted approach makes her one of the top voices on social platforms for inclusivity and diversity today.

Kim Crowder

Kim Crowder is a DEI and diverse workplace culture educator who is among the Top Voices on LinkedIn for equity and equality. She was recognized as one of the top anti-racist educators by Forbes. She is the founder & CEO of a boutique consulting studio called Kim Crowder Consulting, which is advocating to create holistic and inclusive workplaces through extensive measures.

Shereen Daniels

Shereen Daniels is an HR strategist, and also the managing director of the HR advisory firm HR Rewired. Having worked with reputable organizations like Vodafone, the firm starts conversations and helps organizers employ anti-racist measures in the workplace. Daniels is also the author of the first UK-based book on the subject, “The Anti-Racist Organization: Dismantling Systemic Racism in the Workplace”, which became an instant Amazon bestseller in several categories.

Sharon Hurley Hall

Sharon Hurley Hall is another activist combating racism in the workplace through educating, giving keynote speeches, her bestseller book “I’m Tired of Racism”, and more. “Sharon’s Anti-Racism Newsletter” has over 3500 subscribers, and provides extensive resources and insights on the subject. Mission Equality is a virtual university – or “The Equaliversity”-- co-founded by Hall, which provides a course on racial equity called the Master of Equality (MxE).

Joquina Reed

Joquina Reed is a professional keynote speaker, civil rights volunteer, anti-racism and inclusivity advocate, and a self-proclaimed “lover of black culture”. After having worked as an independent DEI consultant for several years, she founded J Reed Consulting LLC in 2021 to be able to provide more professional workplace culture diversification solutions. She is also the host of “Divesting from Whiteness”, a podcast fighting against white privilege and supremacy.

Dr. Kimya Nuru Dennis

Dr. Kimya Nuru Dennis holds a Ph.D in criminology and inequality, and is a strong advocate for social and criminal justice. She is the founder & CEO of 365 Diversity that fights racism in the workplace, communities, organizations, and schools through consultations, guest speaking opportunities, and changes to curriculums/policies.  

Denise Branch

Portrait of Denise Branch

Denise Branch is a 4x Forbes-featured anti-racism educator and DEI consultant with years of experience working with million, billion, and trillion-dollar companies, including Microsoft, Qualtrics, Textio, Saks Fifth Avenue, and OfficeMax. In addition, consulting and educating leaders from companies such as Amazon, TikTok, Pinterest, Tumbler, Genesys, IBM, JB Hunt, the University of Arkansas, the University of Washington, and more. She has coached hundreds of women and men since launching her Facetime “anti-racism for white women” and  "anti-racism for white men" sessions. Denise is dedicated to developing anti-racist employers and employees through anti-racism education to save lives and livelihoods.

Theresa M. Robinson

Theresa M. Robinson is a sales professional, diversity educator and public speaker, who has formerly worked in reputable organizations such as Walt Disney World, Tupperware, etc. She has been a professional speaker under Master Trainer TMR & Associates for over 18 years, which is a DEI consultancy service. She speaks at companies for better diversity advocation, organizes workshops, and holds several credible certifications.

Netta Jenkins

Netta Jenkins is a current doctoral student, TedX speaker, diversity educator, and author. Her book “The Inclusive Organization” draws from her personal experiences as a black employee in business. She is the global chief of diversity at Holistic Inclusion Consulting, the vice president of global inclusion in Unqork, and an advisory board member for several other organizations. She has garnered acclaim from several reputable publications for her advocacy, such as Forbes and CNN.

Aiko Bethea

Last but not least is Aiko Bethea, a leadership and workplace culture consultant in the subjects of POC, women, disability, and LGBTQIA+ inclusion. She is the founder of Rare Coaching & Consulting, and also the principal consultant at the firm. Some of her past clients include Google, Adobe, Pokemon, GAP, and Microsoft.

Remember that silent is violent

Racism in the workplace is a year-round issue – it deserves attention all the time, not just during Black History Month. Being silent is to take part in oppression; so employers should make it a part of their conversation and actively try to fight racism at work every chance they get. Keep following the Ruul Blog for more articles about modern workplace culture, diverse work arrangements, industry information, work related news, and latest work trends around the globe.

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