We’ve all read or heard the saying, “empowered women empower women,” but have you ever considered how this statement manifests in real-life experiences? I’ve struggled with this concept because too often we hear of women who fight for a place at the table only to hog the position for fear of losing their power to another woman. Consider, for example, Anne McNulty, the co-founder and managing partner of JBK Partners. She described a difficult experience early in her career when she tried to invite the only senior woman colleague at her firm to lunch. She was swiftly rebuffed by her colleague because “there’s only room for one female partner” at the firm. She lamented the fact that this was a very rational position for her colleague to take. A study by the Pew Research Center shows that only 10% of the top executive positions in corporate America are filled by women. Reading this statistic, I immediately wondered about the representation of women of color, specifically black women. So I dug into more research and found the report Women in the Workplace 2018 from McKinsey & Company which highlighted the fact that black women are highly underrepresented across all levels in corporate America. The few brilliant, hard-working women who do make it into corporate America still end up dealing with sexism, racism, discrimination, belittlement, harassment, and the list goes on.
Are you really surprised by any of this? Unfortunately, I’m not.
While the report by McKinsey & Company includes great suggestions on ways in which organizations can increase their representation of women, current trends reveal the fact that meaningful changes in corporate diversity will be an uphill battle. We shouldn’t be deterred by this reality though because the work is crucial. Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, puts it beautifully by saying, “We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.” Having more women, specifically women of color, included and represented in organizations will allow women to be empowered, reach out and empower other women, and not compete for the few positions offered. It would decrease the negative experiences that women often report experiencing. More importantly, women of color bring significant knowledge and expertise to their teams and corporations, thereby increasing corporations’ revenues.
As the corporate world grapples with these changes, black women have not sat back and waited for the changes to come. According to ProjectDiane 2018, a report on the state of Black women founders, Black women starting their own businesses have more than doubled from 2016 to 2018. Most of the start-ups are concentrated in California and New York and other cities like Atlanta. What I found to be interesting is that most Black women note that they have leaned on other women in their lives for moral and social support when taking a major step and starting their own enterprise. This is how empowered women empower women.
I’ve noticed this trend in my personal life as well because even as an Iraqi-American, I’ve been fortunate to have many strong Black women who support me at every turning point in my life. We support each other in many ways: from prepping for job interviews, to reviewing class papers, to building our networks, to writing business plans. I even see this every day at Oman Baako, where our founder and executive director, Danielle Taylor, creates a welcoming and supporting environment for our all-women team. Danielle makes sure that we are heard, understood, and given credit where credit is due. Supporting Black girls and women is at the heart of Oman Baako’s mission, so she goes above and beyond to ensure that we live into this mission in every aspect of our work including contracting black women-owned businesses for projects and highlighting black women who are doing great things in the world. This is how I see the phrase “empowered women empower women” being practiced every day. It’s the small things that add up to make a big impact.
Are you a Black woman who has been empowered by another black woman? We need to hear from you! We want to feature your story in our upcoming blog-series of black women empowering women. Comment, DM, or email us today!