WOCA 2021: Fireside Chat: White Women as Allies to WOC

The following session is from Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s fourth annual Women of Color and Their Allies event, held Oct. 21, 2021. This year’s theme was “Sustaining Workforce Positions for Women of Color.” Throughout the day, panels consisting of researchers, thought leaders and executives shared their insights and strategies for helping women of color overcome common workplace barriers and spotlight allies working to sustain their positions within the workforce.

While women, overall, may feel a sense of solidarity about the battles their gender has faced in a professional world, there’s no doubt that women’s experiences are also drastically different across racial and ethnic lines. With the momentum of modern social justice movements, there has never been a better time for white women to help elevate the voices of women of color and, in doing so, create an inclusive movement that is beneficial for all women.

Our special guest panelist for the session was Karen Fichuk, CEO at Randstad North America (No. 30 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021). Carolynn Johnson, CEO of Fair360, formerly DiversityInc, moderated the session.



Key takeaways from the session:


Fichuk on the challenges of being a good ally

“During the social justice movement, the Karen meme of a privileged white woman was very prevalent. That hit home in a big way, given that Karen was my name. But I’ve learned a lot about my privilege over the last year because of that. And I think, as allies, we need to own those challenges. We really need to own our privilege. 

“My advice on a personal level is to make that extra effort to expand your network to include women of color. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or think that you’re going to say something wrong. I know we went through this as a leadership team directly after the George Floyd murder. Everybody on the leadership team wanted to take action and do something, and yet you saw this apprehensiveness. We actually had our chief diversity officer come on and have an open conversation with our team, where they could ask, “Is it okay to say this? Is it okay to ask this?” because they were afraid of doing the wrong thing. Sometimes being afraid of doing the wrong thing means you don’t do anything, and that’s the worst possible place that we can all be.”


Fichuk on how everyone can help to promote change in the workplace

“Use your privilege to meet the moment. Use your voice and your position to influence and make a change. I think even in small ways, we all have power and autonomy. We have the power to shift the numbers and influence the culture. I would encourage everybody to do that and to use your privilege and use your position to drive the change that we all want to see.”


Fichuk on how white women can best help women of color succeed in the workplace

“Start by finding commonalities with the women around you and the women you are trying to support. Find a connection and try to recognize that a lot of our struggles are the same struggles. Use that empathy to really drive your behavior. Try to do more of the simple things that are part of being human, kind and good managers. These are the things we should be doing more of. 

“Think about what you can do in your sphere of influence and how you can move beyond just being a mentor of listening and giving advice to actually owning it: put yourself out there for somebody and introduce them to your own network, create a job or a promotion opportunity in the organization. 

“Sponsorship is so important, and it makes all the difference. In the end, good allyship is about investing your own personal, political capital and your time and your network in others — in women of color — to help them advance in the workforce.”