Black Womxn Thriving: Focus Groups: Our research and the Unintended Gift of Community

Jul 23, 2021

“The womxn in our groups asked us, ‘Are you in my head?’ because our shared experiences informed the questions we wanted to ask.” —Mako Fitts-Ward, Ph.D, (Assistant Professor, School of Social Transformation, Arizona State University & Principal Researcher, Black Womxn Thriving)

 

Black Womxn Thriving Starts with Listening

When the right people ask Black womxn about workplace equity, they have a lot to say. We at Black Womxn Thriving are listening.  Our research team is looking for patterns and searching for data-informed solutions that companies can implement to support Black womxn across the gender spectrum as they move beyond surviving to thriving and find success and stability at work. Before we do all that, though, we have to ask Black womxn about their experiences.

Centering Black Womxn

Our first step, the Black Womxn Thriving survey, took place in May and was a huge success. Over 1500 Black womxn from top industries across the country participated—exceeding our goal by over 50 percent. We spent June conducting focus groups that allowed participants to share their experiences in small groups with discussions guided by Black women who agreed to moderate.

“When black women win victories, it is a boost for virtually every segment of society,” Angela Davis once said. “This is the reward of centering Black womxn.”

We’ve only just begun to review the survey data, but we’ve gotten a lot of feedback about the survey process itself. The thing we hear most often is that the survey questions made Black womxn who were survey and focus group members feel heard and connected—to each other and to the research. It’s very rare for a research project to create the kind of deep connections and gratitude that we have seen in this project. The fact that this project is making Black womxn feel heard and understood tells us a lot about the lack of connection and understanding Black womxn are experiencing at work.

Connected through Shared Experiences

We’ve heard that it feels “cathartic” to be asked these questions and to know that researchers—Black womxn researchers, specifically—are going to publish the results and show companies what is happening in their organizations.  We didn’t design the survey and focus groups to be a community building vehicle, but it has turned out that way.  We believe that this research—led by Black womxn, for Black womxn—supports the humanity of Black womxn who are risking vulnerability to move our work forward. 

Finding Support in All The Right Places

This past year has revealed the importance of community. Community allows for our most authentic selves to lead and support those that share our space.  Through their Black Womxn Thriving experience, womxn were able to speak openly in small groups, sharing their experiences on a variety of topics specific to their shared experiences of being Black womxn whether those topics centered on ways they didn’t receive the support they needed from their colleagues or whether their hairstyles ever became a topic of discussion at work. The women participating in these focus group sessions also shed light on the ways that participants felt they were acting in survival mode at work, and unknowingly, through sharing individual truths, a sense of community was formed. 

Why This Work Matters

Black Womxn Thriving exists to illustrate and influence companies and organizations into the state of commitment they have already publicly agreed to in order to improve the environment that Black womxn work in. Many companies and organizations promised that they would do this work but, in reality, it is not getting done.. We want to help organizations keep these promises.  While Black womxn’s votes matter, our voices and experiences are frequently ignored. Our goal with Black Womxn Thriving is to listen to these voices and ensure that our community feels centered, supported, and valued in the ongoing work of creating equity in workplace culture. If you would like to support the Black Womxn Thriving research project, sign up for updates or donate to support the work, visit everylevelleads.com/research/.

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