What White Women Can Do to Advance Women of Color

by Trudy Bourgeois


White women are the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action, and they haven’t acknowledged it. Organizations have lulled themselves into thinking that they have made more progress on diversity than they actually have because they are not disaggregating the data showing that women of color are being left behind. More importantly, we as women haven’t found the courage to engage in courageous conversations about this truth. What we also know to be a reality is the high level of mistrust between white women and women of color. Many women of color that I have spoken with have shared their hidden resentment about being left behind. The white women that I have spoken with are unclear about the benefits that they have received because they too feel marginalized. The experience in corporate for white women as compared to women of color is different. White women need to understand the daily encounters of rejection due to systemic racism that women of color face.

White women and women of color both need to come to the table, put our heads together, open our hearts, engage in courageous conversations, and get aligned to a common purpose to support each other. When women come together in a serious, sincere, and authentic way, magic happens. History validates this fact. Ella Fitzgerald, jazz singer and writer, became famous because of the help that Marilyn Monroe gave her. Monroe knew Fitzgerald’s capabilities, but knew that due to the gross level of racism, she would not be allowed to perform. Monroe used her privilege to say to cabaret owners, “If she isn’t allowed to perform, then I won’t perform here either.” Monroe was a true champion and sponsor. That’s what women of color need white women to do: become our sponsors.

We can have such an impact and drive the needed change but only if we learn to support each other in a very intentional way. If you are ready to jump in and become an upstander instead of a bystander, ask yourself these questions to get started.

• Am I a champion for other women across differences?
• Am I willing to find the courage to engage in uncomfortable conversations so that I can be a champion for equity and equality?
• Am I willing to make fighting for equality part of my personal leadership commitment?
We need to move with swiftness and understand that these decisions are not just for us. They affect our daughters, our granddaughters, and the generations to come after them. The choice is ours to make. The time is NOW! DW

Trudy Bourgeois is the founder and CEO of the Center for Workforce Excellence, a global leadership development company specializing in developing inclusive leaders who can create inclusive cultures to drive better business results. Her organization has delivered innovative and disruptive strategies to Fortune 500 organizations that have moved the needle in advancing diversity and inclusion. A best-selling author, she is passionate about driving equality in the world.

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