As a DEI practitioner, my role is to work with people to help them move past their biases to build more equitable workplaces. It’s what I do day in and day out. But as I look at who I work with them most as colleagues and confidants in this space, I realized something —
I don’t work with a lot of white women.
At first, this was something I didn’t notice, but once I saw it, I started to identify why that was. I began to reflect on my interactions in personal and professional circles and realized that most of the time when I had challenges in the workplace, it was at the hands of white women. So I wanted to unpack this challenge with someone I knew would be comfortable having the conversation – Karen Fleshman.
Unpacking My Experiences
At first, I wanted to call this discovery a bias. According to the Oxford dictionary, a bias is “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.”
I had to sit with that for a bit. The coach in me asked the question – What was the root of this feeling?
Several workplace incidents immediately came to mind:
- having a colleague (that was friends with the CEO) having the same job but a higher title and making $40k more per year. When I called the company out on it, she found ways to get out of the increased expectations she should have had with the title she carried.
- attending my first meeting in an organization and being met with “What qualifies you to be here?” by an older white woman. For months, she tried to discredit my work. Come to find out she had someone close to her that she wanted to get into the organization through the role I had
- being demonized and ultimately ostracized by the head of DEI, who proudly stated she’d never done DEI work before.
- witnessing the executive sponsor of the program I managed give credit to the aforementioned head of DEI for work I did at a company-wide event
The list goes on. I’ve seen and been victim to the weaponizing of white women’s tears in corporate spaces. My trust in them, as a collective, was very low. But that’s not to say I don’t trust any white woman.
Learning Through the Process
I’ve learned that part of my survival in corporate America was to observe if actions aligned with words. I needed to see allyship in action and not as a self-appointed badge of honor. I needed to know that lessons on discrimination or microaggressions weren’t just regurgitated from the latest audiobook but were understood and actions in how to mitigate them were part of the lexicon. I’ve met a few over the last few years and I would call many of them friends. But this is not an easy task, especially in the dog-eat-dog world of corporate America. Through many of the conversations with these friends, I’ve learned that some of the behaviors I’ve experienced were out of conditioning, lack of knowledge, and fear of displacement.
In this episode, I sit with Karen Fleshman to unpack some of these notions. We talk about how organizations can prepare themselves to support women of color, white women’s roles in inclusion efforts, and the impact of white women’s tears in corporate spaces.
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