It began innocently enough, two powerful women in a conversation about their lived experiences as leaders; the challenges they’ve faced, the roles they’ve played, the people they’ve supported …their hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the future. And then it came..the question “How can Women of Color really be themselves and be successful at work? Is our leadership really welcome?
Today, we are stepping up to address these questions on behalf of Women of Color who know that we are in a watershed moment.
We are thrilled to announce the launch of a new venture called nFormation.
We created this movement for the first woman of color in their families to go to college, work outside the home, or have a professional role, the few Women of Color in a department or unit, and the only woman of color in a senior leadership role at their company or organization. These women, who we call the “firsts, the fews and the onlys,” carry a unique burden and promising opportunity. These women, in addition to executing the role they were hired to do, often find themselves the sole voice on Women of Color issues, current national events, and sometimes race, in their workplaces. They have the burden of taking on the extra responsibility that comes with success and high achievement, but they also have the opportunity to truly pave a new path for leadership. COVID, the collapsing economy and the racial pandemic of the summer have created a new platform and urgency for these unique voices and contributions.
As Women of Color and people who exist at the intersection of multiple types of marginalization, we are uniquely equipped to understand the issues associated with power. nFormation aims to explore how to grow individually and work collectively to help heal the broken power structure in ways that are equitable and empowering for society as a whole. We believe that to solve the great challenges in front of us we need new spaces to come together in community and to envision the way forward.
In our most passionate conversations at nFormation, we are vigilant about language. We have zero desire to just throw around fancy words in an attempt to brand new lexicons. Our rigor comes from a deep dedication to being able to capture the merit of the sentiment and place our finger on the pulse of what will really move the needle for our Sisters. We are clear that any form of true progress has got to be about more than just skirts in seats or melanin in the mix. This is about liberation and the ROOM to actually bring our long cultivated perspective, magic and genius to the table in a way that actually transforms the table itself.
What we’ve discovered through hundreds of interviews and facilitated conversations with high achieving Women of Color is that many of us do not even have words for the kinds of challenges we’ve faced in workplaces. And so it has been even more difficult to give voice to what we need in order to thrive. We weren’t at the table when the existing structures and ways of working were formed. They were not created by us nor were they created for us.
Building nFormation has been a long and patient process guided by years of deep listening and courageous soul searching. We learned we need SPACE.
We need SPACE to gather.
SPACE that is safe.
SPACE that supports us in being brave.
And, new SPACE and open SPACE so we can innovate and construct new power and a new way forward.
Gathering Space: One of the biggest realizations we’ve had in working with WOC leaders is that so many of us are isolated. As a matter of fact, the more successful we become, the more isolated we are. We need access to our collective wisdom and nothing provides that like the power of community. We need to know we are not alone.
Safe Space: We need spaces where we can show up fully as ourselves. We need spaces that SEE us, affirm us, and celebrate our presence. Studies are finally emerging that actually demonstrate the damaging effects of being in environments that are hostile to our identities. We need space so we can breathe.
Brave Space: We need to be brave in how we show up right now. The price of rising can no longer be the abandonment of our identities, sensibilities, and voices. We often live double lives. Where we are one person at work and a totally different person at home. For WOC, that contrast is so stark it can be disorienting. So much so that you begin to question who you really are at the end of the day. But to be in our full power we have to embrace and celebrate all that we are.
New Space: We need spaces to talk about power and power structures. A profit at any cost mentality creates a relentless kind of striving that dehumanizes when defining the standard for what it means to succeed. We need new space to think of a better way forward. We need new space to redefine and reimagine power.
Finally, we need to take what we learn from gathering and bring it back to our workplaces. And maybe not all workplaces. Let’s start by gravitating to the organizations that are genuinely open to our perspectives and unique ways of leading. What we offer may be dramatically different than what organizations are used to, but there can be great benefit when the dedication to a thriving culture matches the commitment to the bottom line.
As organizations’ demand for us increases, we have a real chance to change business priorities and reimagine the ways we actually conduct business. We are in a moment where Women of Color are being called, and if we want to realize what is in front of us, we need a space created by Women of Color, for Women of Color, to gather and change the way the table is formed. Our moment is now, and our opportunity is tremendous.
It’s time to get i(n)to formation.
Deepa Purushothaman & Rha Goddess
Originally published on Medium.com