WOCA 2022: Women of Color in Leadership Contexts That Don’t Love Them

When Colonel Yvonne Spencer finds herself in rooms full of scholars, educators, entrepreneurs and leaders, it isn’t often a room filled with women of color. As she began her session titled “Darned If You Do, Darned If You Don’t: Women of Color in Leadership Contexts That Don’t Love Them” at Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s 2022 Women of Color and Their Allies event, she noted the makeup of the room she was in.

“This is an amazing sight that I have before me, so I want to applaud you for what you’ve done, what you’re doing and what you’re going to do,” the 28-year Air Force Veteran said. “I stand before you as one of 3,200 active-duty colonels in the United States Air Force, of which roughly 200 are African American and 68 of those are female. There are more than 350 that are white females. I’m no engineer, but that math doesn’t add up. We make up about 6% of one of the highest leadership chains in the military.”

The numbers paint a picture of the landscape that Spencer has spent her career navigating. As she began recalling her early days in the Air Force, she painted a picture filled with microaggressions and a lack of understanding of her experience. However, she was quick to note that she would not have risen to the rank and status she has achieved without the help of allies.

“The village that I sought out to surround me, to support me, to bounce things off of has propelled me to different positions, different career choices in life,” Spencer said.

Spencer went on to talk about her identity crisis as a leader. Whether speaking to a public crowd like the one at Women of Color and Their Allies or a group full of airmen, the question becomes who is she?

“Am I someone they believe got there because they had a lot of help they didn’t deserve?” Spencer said. “Am I the angry Black female? Am I the female they feel they can walk over and that doesn’t have a role, that should be in the backseat at all times? That identity crisis becomes fatiguing over time.”

She went on to detail her time overseeing the Heavy Engineer Combat Unit, a group she was the first African American and first female to lead. As she moved out to Montana to take over that organization, she found that at the core of that organization, issues with racism and sexism were abundant.

“As I got on that stage, each and every time, I had to impress upon them the importance of integrity, service before self and excellence in all that you do and remind them that part of that is no discrimination, no sexist remarks. Everyone is treated not because of the package that they were wrapped in, but what they brought to that fight. I had to ask myself what am I representing? Are they seeing an African American? A woman? Or a leader that believes in the values that should be instilled upon everyone when they don the cloth of our nation?”

Watch all the sessions from our 2022 Women of Color and Their Allies event here!


Trending Now

Follow us

Most Popular