WOCA 2023: Building Truly Inclusive Cultures by Addressing Systemic Barriers for Women of Color

Strides have been made to advance equity and inclusion for women of color in the workplace, but challenges remain. There are many systemic and structural barriers impeding the ability of women of color to succeed.  

Natasha Miller Williams, Founder and CEO of Work Hearter Consulting and Christiani Franck, Director of Americas Diversity, Equity & Inclusiveness Center of Excellence at EY (a Fair360 Hall of Fame company), discussed the obstacles at the 6th annual Women of Color and Their Allies event on September 21. 

Addressing Employee Concerns

Franck was part of a panel titled  “Building Truly Inclusive Cultures by Addressing Systemic Structural Barriers for All.”  During the discussion, she responded to questions about employee worries regarding workplace fairness practices. She provided three ways to address these fears: 

  1. Perception around one’s reputation 
  2. Shared ownership, responsibility and accountability 
  3. Trust 

“What do I mean around perception of reputation? Programs and initiatives that are meant to drive equity, specifically around elements of identity,” Franck said. “One can be fearful and anxious that if I associate myself with those types of efforts, they will question whether I have what it takes to be successful here. That in some way, that engagement as part of that effort is a lack of ability, competence or I’m struggling in terms of navigating the realities of my work.” 

She added that organizations must diversify their approaches to inclusion. Using different tactics, programs and initiatives helps drive equitable experiences and careers in the workplace, especially for women of color. 

Ensuring Lasting Fairness for Women of Color

After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, many companies made proclamations and gave money to support people of color. Some organizations, though, didn’t follow through with those pledges. Miller Williams was asked how companies can ensure their workplace fairness efforts have a lasting impact. 

Miller Williams reflected on her trips to Civil Rights museums, which she tries to frequent in every city she visits. She spoke of Fannie Lou Hamer, a Civil Rights activist who would sometimes stay with her great-grandmother in the 1950s when she was in Chicago.   

“As I was going through the Civil Rights museum, you have this opportunity to really see what has happened through history and the systemic issues, the structural barriers, the physical barriers we have faced over time,” Miller Williams said. 

“There was a quote I stumbled on that had me putting a lot of things into context from then and now,” she continued. “This quote says, ‘When I criticize the system, they think I criticize them, and that is, of course, because they fully accept the system and identify themselves with it.'” 

Miller Williams shared this story to emphasize the importance of systemic change. While it’s not always easy, organizations must believe in the values of driving innovation through inclusion, she said.

Watch all our 2023 Women of Color and Their Allies event sessions here!