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Women of color have a harder time getting a seat at the company table compared to any other group — even though they have the ambition and education. And while many companies are launching initiatives that focus on diversity and leadership development, workplace challenges continue to hold them back.
Know Your Value founder and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski interviewed Minda Harts, host of the podcast “Secure the Seat” and founder of The Memo LLC, a career development organization for women of color. Harts is releasing her book “The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table” on Aug. 20.
Harts recently shared some of her book’s insights with Brzezinski and discussed challenges that need to be addressed if women of color are going to advance in the workplace.
1. Biases and microaggressions are alive and well — though many people disagree.
Biases and microaggressions against women of color happen all the time in the workplace, according to Harts. She told a story about a friend who had worked in a company for six years, yet her boss couldn’t remember her name. Unlike her white colleagues, this woman was forced to wear a name tag.
“People are not used to seeing us in positions that would require us to lead,” Harts said, noting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not passed very long ago.
Yet, women of color are often contending with environments where people don’t believe in biases, microaggressions or oppression. This can have a gaslighting effect on women of color, according to Harts.
“How do you create agency to speak on a matter that others don’t see as a problem?” she asked. “That’s half the issue when you’re a woman of color because others don’t experience what you’re experiencing, they don’t validate it. They’ve never experienced it in the same way, and so they think [women of color] created this experience in their mind, and when that’s the narrative given, we start to believe it.”
2. Women of color in the workforce are isolated.
Women of color are often the only ones in their department, or one of few. Few women of color are seen in leadership roles. This creates a sense of isolation that affects their chances of success, according to Harts.
“Who is advocating on our behalf?” she asked. “We are greeted with [biases and microaggressions] and often you’re in isolation and you don’t have anybody to stand up for you.”
3. Fear of looking “too angry” silences women of color.
Women of color are often silenced for fear of appearing “too angry” to their white colleagues and managers, according to Harts. They have to backpedal on demands or couch things in a tone that says “we didn’t mean any harm.”
“With that, you feel like you just have to settle into the microaggressions, and so you don’t feel like you have agency to speak up on it,” said Harts.
4. Women of color are treated as an afterthought.
Women of color, specifically black women, have the worst pay and leadership numbers across the board, despite being the most educated demographic. Yet, they are often treated as an addendum to larger discussions about the gender workforce gap rather than a central focus, according to Harts.
“Oftentimes, when we speak about statistics for women, we usually speak about white women first, and women of color are more of an afterthought,” Harts said.
5. Women of color fear self-advocacy.
In addition to not having advocates to speak on their behalf in the workplace, women of color often don’t advocate for themselves, said Harts.
“It’s not just about having that seat [at the table], it’s about owning it and making sure your voice is heard,” said Harts. “We don’t speak up. Oftentimes people don’t even know we want it. So we have to speak up.”
She added: “There’s room for all of us to get what we want when we know our worth.”
Minda Harts’ book, “The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table” will be out on Aug. 20.