How to Be Advocates for Women of Color in the Workplace

by Linnie S. Carter, Ph.D., APR
HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College
Harrisburg, PA


Why do women of color need advocates in the workplace?


Malcolm X said it best: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”


Other women of color have similar experiences. We are double minorities – of color and women. We are not victims. We are survivors and thrivers. However, the fact remains that despite all of our many qualities, strengths and talents, we still can be disrespected, unprotected and neglected in the workplace.


I am going to share five ways to advocate for women of color in the workplace. There are many more ways, but these five are a great place to start. To remember them, please use this word: G.R.A.C.E.


1.  Give them the benefit of the doubt. When you hear other community college employees complain about women of color, ask the complainer what THEY did. Also, give the woman of color the benefit of the doubt and ask them what happened. Chances are the woman of color did what white people and men do all of the time – expressed her opinion.


2.  Respect, acknowledge and leverage their candor, courage, loyalty, strength and talents. Women of color are some of the most brilliant and talented people in the community college world. In many cases, if you respect, acknowledge and leverage their talents, you will have a loyal supporter for life. For some of the toughest issues facing community colleges – including lack of funding, declining enrollments and personnel disputes – women of color are doing much of the behind-the-scenes work to ensure students are not adversely impacted.


3.  Afford them the same opportunities that you would give a white person and/or a male. The next time you are considering a white person or male for an opportunity simply because you share the same demographics, consider giving that same opportunity to a woman of color. She is not asking for anything that she does not deserve. This is particularly important if your community college is racially diverse. Representation matters, and students of color need and deserve to see women of color in key positions.


4.  Care privately AND publicly. If you privately tell a woman of color that you support her, be prepared to share that same level of support in group meetings. Others will be less likely to target her if they know that you support her. Be authentic in that private and public support. Women of color tend to view inauthenticity and inconsistency with disdain.


5.  Expose instances of racism, white supremacy and misogyny. It’s not enough to declare that you are antiracist or anti-misogynistic. Women of color need you to expose racists, white supremacists and misogynists – especially if you are in positions of leadership. You should get rid of bad people who can negatively impact your community college’s culture and bottom line. For most community colleges, any enrollment gains they experience during the next five years will come from people of color. Racism is bad for business – especially for community colleges.


If you are not advocating for women of color – especially those on your team – please start today. Not only is it your professional duty, but it is also your moral obligation. It is never too late to be better and do better.


This is the second of two articles about the importance of advocating for women of color and is part of an occasional series from DEI committee members that will highlight issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.


Linnie S. Carter, Ph.D., APR, is vice president of college advancement at HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, and executive director of the HACC Foundation. 


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