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The future is bright for womxn of color at work

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From Future for Us Assembly 2019
Photo by Anthony Smith

T oday in the United States, white women own the narrative of work even when womxn of color (WOC) show up at work in equal numbers. The lack of visibility in the narrative of work creates barriers for one the largest growing demographics of U.S. workers. (Note that we use the spelling of “womxn” to show inclusion of trans, nonbinary, womxn of color, womxn with disabilities and all other marginalized genders).

In thinking about experiences of WoC, Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, delivered at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio in 1851, feels as relevant today—168 years later— as it was then. A former slave, Sojourner was an outspoken advocate for abolition, temperance, and civil and women’s rights in the 19th century. Her words are a powerful reminder of the realities of WoC in America and the double standards we endure at work and in community.

WoC today are 20% of the overall population, but comprise 50% of the lowest wage workforce in the United States.
The legacy of these double standards means that WOC today are 20% of the overall population, but comprise 50% of the lowest-wage workforce in the U.S. This has led to less than 4% of WOC in the C-Suite, a lack of representation in leadership roles across sectors, and an absence of role models and advocates driving policies and practices that support the advancement of WOC at work.
From Future for Us Assembly 2019
Photo by Anthony Smith
WOC don’t just face disparities at work. Today in the U.S., womxn of color—especially black, Latina and native women— face maternal health challenges at a level on par with developing countries. And the maternal mortality rate for black women in the U.S. is worsening, along with the wage gap, something that actress Michelle Williams called out in her Emmy acceptance speech earlier this year.

WOC are acutely aware of our marginalization in the narrative of work. In professional sectors, 44% of WOC are most likely to downplay our race and ethnicity and are reticent to share details of our personal lives. Twenty-one percent of WOC say they can’t be themselves at work. At the same time, WOC are the most ambitious segment of the workforce and the largest growing segment of new degree holders, starting 8 out of 10 women-owned businesses.

This is the moment to capitalize on the strengths of WOC, to unleash innovation and growth.
From Future for Us Assembly 2019
Photo by Anthony Smith
Future for Us believes that community is a powerful antidote to the disparities WOC experience in the world of work, and together with storytelling and data, can provide a powerful path forward. Future for Us launched in January 2019 in response to a world of work where WOC hide, instead of thriving.

By building community, we support WOC to navigate an environment where they are often “the only”—“the only” in a meeting, on a board, at the table. At Future for Us’s first sold-out WOC-focused conference in April 2019, participants breathed a sigh of relief:

“There was a little quiver in my chin, a catch in my voice and welling up of tears in my eyes at the Future for Us Assembly event on Saturday,” said Carol Lwali, Associate Director at Seattle University. “It was the first time that I was in such a large (300+) gathering of women of color in Seattle. I was overwhelmed with emotion for not being “the only one”—woman, black, immigrant, etc., in the room. I know many others felt the same way about the specific identities that they hold.” -

This is the magic of the Future for Us platform—advancing womxn of color and inviting allies to step up by giving them the leverage to shift behaviors, policies and practices in their organizations. As Kim Lyons, an ally attending the State of Womxn of Color National Tour event, said, “The event provided a wealth of empirical data and a platform for rising and established womxn of color professionals to share their experiences and next step strategies in order to build powerful communities to create a future for where womxn of color lead at the highest levels across all sectors.”
We believe this is the moment for leaders across all sectors to show up as success partners and co-conspirators and to support womxn of color at work.
From Future for Us Assembly 2019
Photo by Anthony Smith

As demographics in the U.S. shift toward WOC being the majority of new hires, and the largest growing demographic of degree holders, the world of work has to shift. We believe this is the moment for leaders across all sectors to show up as success partners and co-conspirators and to support WoC at work—not only because our lives are connected, but also because we womxn of color are ambitious and ready to lead. Accelerating the advancement of womxn of color at work unlocks innovation, economic growth, and a culture of work where everyone thrives.

About Future for Us
Future for Us is a platform dedicated to advancing womxn of color at work through community, culture and career development. Launched in January of 2019, Future for Us envisions a world where womxn of color lead at the highest levels across all sectors. Learn more here.

Learn more about their 2020 vision here.


December 20, 2019
Edition: Gather

The ideas and views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Evoke or Melinda Gates.