Tell me if this sounds familiar:
“I’m so supportive of what you’re doing. I’d love to have you join a training program we recently launched for [insert women, people of color, women of color]. It meets for six hours a week over Zoom and teaches you [insert some aspect of business].”
That familiar statement comes from my colleague (and shero!) S. Mitra Kalita in her TIME column, The Problem with Training Programs Targeting People of Color. She shares her observation that DEI efforts are increasingly targeting people of color, rather than the privileged individuals and power systems that led to being historically underestimated.
I’ve noticed this troubling trend, too. And as I shared with her for the article, it stems from the mentality that underestimated individuals “need a handout.”
PSA: We don’t.
One more time for the people in the back:
We don’t need handouts. What we need is for our talents and accomplishments to be fully recognized for what they are.
The problem with efforts that focus on “up-leveling” women of color, people of color, or other groups is THIS underlying message: you’re the problem. You need to change to fit into the dominant culture/power structure/expectations that exist and were created by and for white men.
No, no, one million times no!
The problem is not underestimated people. The problem is the systematic inequalities that leave us out of leadership and opportunities.
People of color don’t need to be saved by initiatives, programming, or training workshops. There are better ways to show support for us: Money. Access to networks. Introductions. Transparency, for example, “here’s how this person operates, and here’s how to land this deal.” Opportunities. Money.
Did I mention money?
There’s a word that describes how to support us, one I’m happy to see more and more often: sponsorship.
We need more sponsorship of people of color — particularly by white men. Because the reality is that three-quarters of senior leaders pick protégés who look like them. And since the majority of corporate leaders are white men, well… you do the math.
The result? Many women of color don’t get sponsored for career-making opportunities, leading to hostile work environments and cultures and attrition.
It’s not a situation that training programs for women of color will solve. As I wrote in Inclusion on Purpose,
“Women of color do not need special accommodations to excel (not even close); what we need is the unwavering belief in our potential to succeed and being offered opportunities to prove our capabilities, like our white counterparts.”
Now, I want to hear from you: can you relate!?
Have you noticed an increase in programming for “improving” people of color? What’s your view of it? Have you been on the receiving end of S. Mitra’s story at the top?
Have you been sponsored by someone, or sponsored someone, who looks different from you? If so, what did you learn?