Over the last decade of running this firm, it has been natural to find alternative ways to understand the world around us while tapping into many approaches to creating just and equitable solutions.
All the work at Every Level Leadership is done through multiple conceptual frameworks, including but not limited to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), Social change, Intersectionality, oppression and equity, race, and gender identity.
So the expectation was it would be heavily grounded in an intersectional social justice framework when we started background research for the Black Women Thriving report. That wasn’t because we wanted to be fancy; it was what made sense.
When we speak about intersectionality, we refer to the theory first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, which asserts that people often face disadvantages by different sources of oppression (i.e., race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.).
In the realm of the Black Women Thriving project, ‘Black’ and ‘women’ cannot exist exclusively from one another.
So, How Does Black Women Thriving Fit Into This DEI Work?
If we’re speaking openly, this project asks one of the groups often subjected by a company’s DEI efforts whether those efforts are helping them or not. . It examines the impact of all DEI efforts. That sort of reflection doesn’t happen often. Much data has studied Black Women and not as much as asking them what they want.
But these companies aren’t considering the intersectionality of that population (i.e., the diversity of ethnicity, cultural background, gender identity, or sexual orientation within the population of women they seek to attract and retain). And by not doing so, they are unaware of all the opportunities they have to deepen their analysis and provide the types of resources that women of color may need that are different from white women.
By choosing to center Black women as the primary beneficiaries of DEI efforts and constructing strategies that would help us thrive, we made sure that any effective solution would have to benefit folks by race and gender. The solutions wouldn’t leave anyone behind as many races, or gender-neutral policies currently do.
Why Did We Focus on Black Women & Gender Expansive Folks?
The question ‘why Black women’ has come up as this project has grown legs and taken on a life of its own, and we’d like to answer it head-on. There are a few reasons why we focused on Black women vs. any other marginalized population.
Honestly, the first is that as the project leader and Principal of Every Level Leadership, Ericka is a Black woman. It is personal, and I wanted to start this important work with the lived experiences I understood innately and profoundly.
The second is that there has been a lot of uproar (noise? Hubbub? Pick your noun!) about investing in Black women in society and less so in the workplace. We believe it is time for all of those voices ( both personal and organizational to live up to that commitment. Our research report does that.
In regards to those who are members of the gender expansive community, we know that folks who identify as gender expansive, nonbinary or genderqueer are outside of the binary; our research, as an offering of solidarity, also collected data on Black gender expansive folks experience in the workplace as well. One of our future dreams is to partner with a Black-run gender-expansive organization to see how this data can develop into its own set of specific recommendations. So, if you are that organization, let’s talk in 2023.
Why did you tell organizations what they needed to do?
One of the repeated expectations we heard about in our research alludes to the idea that Black women must change how they approach these systems to keep their jobs. Instead of asking: what does your organization need to do to keep you here? There are so many resources out there that talk about what Black women can and should do to keep their sanity, and I knew ours was not going to do that.
I will repeatedly say this: It’s time for organizations to assume responsibility for fixing broken systems that keep their employees from thriving.
This decision reflected a bias of mine that change has to occur at the organizational level. But more importantly, I refused to ask Black women to take on additional labor to fix their organizations. We are tired, and we have done more than enough.
This research aims to provide clear and actionable strategies for organizations to do the heavy lifting and improve support for Black women.
Black Women Thriving was a work of passion, resolve, and dedication for all of us here at Every Level Leadership, and we are excited for it to be in the world.