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Advancing Management Careers for Women of Color: Leveraging Lessons from Industry’s Top Ladies

PhenomenalMAG Staff  |  Mogul Mindset

In the workplace, women of color have advanced significantly. They are now more prevalent in management.

They've reached the very top. In order to increase the number of women of color and members of other underrepresented groups, many are influencing the futures of the organizations and industries in which they work.

Despite their growing numbers, they are still severely underrepresented compared to white women and men in comparable occupations. There is still much to be accomplished.

The topic of "Women of Color in Leadership" was the focus of a recent roundtable conversation attended by a small elite group of women who were leaders in their various organizations, firms, and sectors.

They spoke about "intersectionality," or how social identities such as race, ethnicity, and gender overlap or intersect to affect how people see the world. The panelists discussed how they overcame obstacles in the workplace that are typical for women of color to conquer in order to succeed professionally. Additionally, they gave companies useful advice on how to establish an inclusive workplace.

"Women of color," which includes African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, American Indians, Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, make up one in every five Americans. Only a small percentage of executive jobs are held by women of color compared to white women (32.6 percent).

Over 1,000 large firms' five-year financial performance was examined by McKinsey & Company. Intersectionality may be a uniquely South Florida experience for some women of color. Despite being a Black woman from Jamaica with an islander accent and being in her 30s while she was seeking to "break into management," Isabel Gonzalez avoided focusing on her intersectionality since she always tried to blend in. Code switching is the practice of altering one's speech, appearance, and behavior to put others at ease.

Teresa Foxx identified as "the other," whether she was working for KPMG or afterwards in the banking sector. “Those fresh, diverse hires might be examining themselves to determine what it will take to keep their jobs,” she notes. Burnadette Norris-Weeks asserts that today's young women are grasping opportunities that were not available forty years ago.

According to Maria Mas Blet, being inclusive requires sharing similar cultural touchstones with everyone around you. Christie Grays Chambers quit organizations that did not value her contributions.

What if you believe that the way others view you as a leader is influenced by your gender, color, or ethnicity? How might you alter your opinion? "Leaving a corporation that thought I'd stay forever was my most courageous, boldest action," said Grays Chambers. Mas Blet advised a powerful, Downton Abbey-style response, a "bless your heart," that exposes the demeaning remark for what it is, even if it was inadvertent.

How can female leaders of today motivate the next generation to advocate for themselves? When faced with uncertainty, Isabel Gonzalez advises keeping in mind that you are where you are because someone believed in you. Mas Blet brought up the mentorship sessions she has with her coworkers, claiming they happen over breakfast or in the late afternoon. “Just keep in mind that you're not alone all the time,” Caribbean islander Marcia Barry-Smith advises.

Throughout their careers, these women of color have used the community as a way to give back. Life coaches are learning how to mentor and teach others in order to pay it forward. Health professionals advise women to put family planning and fertility preservation before career advancement.

Teresa Foxx, the secretary of transportation for Virginia, asserts that the first step in paying it forward is to answer "yes" to requests from ambitious young women. “You might be able to help others get past their worries about work, projects, careers, and conversations about advancement, promotions, or pay hikes. Whether it's an invitation to coffee, a meeting, or anything else, accept whatever invitation a young woman is extending to you.”

“You have a 50/50 chance of getting a yes or no when you ask a question. Just show up for this generation,” Foxx urges. “Show up.”

“Even if I'm unsure of how anything will be done, I attempt to say yes,” says Chambers. According to Smith-Baugh, a statement is not a true no if it doesn't end with an exclamation point. Lee adds, "Your professional achievement is paying it forward."

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