This International Women’s Day, #PressForProgress For Invisible Women

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We are the invisible women, kept on the sidelines by our supposed allies — white women.

By Aparna Rae and Ruchika Tulshyan

It’s International Women’s Day, which means corporations, governments, and nonprofits are amplifying the few women leaders they have on social media, complete with inspirational quotes like “she believed she could, so she did.” Everywhere you look, there’s a general celebration of how far women have come (as well as the inevitable tone-deaf or entirely hollow brand marketing stunts). Cutesy hashtags like #PressForProgress are being used liberally and in cities across America, organizations are hosting power breakfasts, lunches, and happy hours to celebrate the power of women.

The irony of this day is that, in reality, the picture couldn’t be bleaker. While organizations are honoring the women in their ranks with social media posts, they are simultaneously fighting against progressive pay equity legislation and pushing back on a call to transparency with respect to hiring practices. We are still not being paid equally for equal work, abortion rights are still under constant attack, and on the whole, millennial women are worse off than their mothers and grandmothers on a number of measures.

To be sure, recent movements to bring light to the issue of gender equity has created shifts for one group; there is one set of women who have progressed significantly in the past decade — white women. And it’s often to celebrate their progress that days like this one and “Equal Pay Day” were created.

There is one set of women who have progressed significantly in the past decade — white women.

White women have long relied on — and sometimes even forced — women of color to comply with their rising status. We have long been responsible for getting white women to this place of (semi-)equity with men: We washed your clothes and cleaned your homes, and even when we made it into corporate careers, we took the lion’s share of “office housework,” like making coffee and ordering lunch, so you could head to the corner office. And while white women nationally have experienced slow but steady gains — making on average 80 cents on $1 — African American, Latinx, and Native women have seen steady declines in pay equity.

So on International Women’s Day in the year 2018, during the #MeToo and #TimesUp moments, we can’t help but call out the gross inequity experienced by women of color. This does not take away from the various strides (some) women have made, but we are weary from watching women of color in our professional lives get sidelined, struggle to see their education and experience convert to professional gains, and work harder than their white peers — only to still ultimately come out on the losing end. We encounter too many well-intentioned gatekeepers who are downright frightened by the reality of diversity — where women of color, queer women, trans women, nonbinary people, and women with disabilities all have a seat at the table.

We are the invisible women, kept on the sidelines by our supposed allies — white women.

And you, our cis white women and allies, you are in a powerful position to speak up and disrupt the status quo. You can and should lend your voice, your credibility, and your power to women around you. Stop being bystanders, refuse to take the easy path of stepping back and waiting for the first domino to fall before taking action.

Allure’s Hailey McMillian says it best:

“For those of us who count ourselves as feminists, this also means not telling women of color to hold on, to not rock the boat, to not agitate too loudly, to sublimate ‘racial concerns’ and unify as a single one-size-fits-all (read: white) feminist movement, to wait for the eventual coming of an eventual better day.”

In the name of gender justice, we have come to bat alongside you at every step of the way. Last year, women of color helped save Alabama from electing a known racist pedophile, not to mention voted in the highest percentages against Trump. For decades, we’ve done the labor for you and now it’s your turn to be an ally to us in the gender and racial justice movements.

You, our cis white women and allies, you are in a powerful position to speak up and disrupt the status quo.

Here’s how you can step up as allies to invisible women this International Women’s Day — and every day going forward.

1. Recognize your bias.

Do away with loaded/stereotypical descriptions of women of color. Here’s a list of 15 things you should never say to a person of color. Recognize that you benefit daily from white supremacy; it’s time to do the hard work of looking at your biases, discomfort, and issues that have been informed by your white privilege. Recognize that women of color are not “angry,” “timid,” “brash,” or “aggressive” — like you, we have different personalities and styles.

2. Look at your community. Do you and your family have any friends of color?

Here’s where we find the opportunity for the most change — and the most resistance to it. A whopping 75% of white people have no non-white friends. We aren’t volunteering ourselves or any other person of color to be your token friend. But if this is your reality, and yet you are applauding yourself on “International Women’s Day” after you marched in the Women’s March, your feminism is irrelevant; true equality can only be realized through an intersectional lens.

3. Assess where women of color are in your organization.

Women of color don’t aspire to lesser roles; in fact, women of color are equally skilled and more interested in leadership role than their white peers. If you see a woman of color in your organization, ask yourself: Are they in a senior or decision-making role?

Collectively, we have experience in the media, finance, academic, government, nonprofit, and startup communities. In every sector we have found ourselves in, we’ve met the intelligent, eager woman of color ready to assume leadership roles — who were too quickly dismissed by their white counterparts. Even in the countries we have worked in that operate largely outside of the U.S. — expat white men and women hold decision-making, leadership positions. Women of color are few and far between, relegated to the lowest of roles: janitorial, entry-level, administrative.

In every sector we have found ourselves in, we’ve met the intelligent, eager woman of color ready to assume leadership roles — who were too quickly dismissed by their white counterparts.

4. Invite women of color to the stage.

Does your event have any women of color? If you are serving non-white groups, it is your responsibility to ensure equitable representation on panels. Here in Seattle, we are invited to hundreds of events where organizers consider themselves “woke” because white women are on their panels — what more could they possibly do? Until women of color are seen as thought-leaders and experts on equal footing with white women, we have not made real progress.

5. Finally, mentor, support, and connect with women of color in your community.

As you grow in your own lives and leadership, you have the opportunity to say “yes!” or “no, not so much” to another woman finding her own way. Think about how you introduce her with an extra word of support, include her in an interesting conversation, connect her to another awesome woman. Think about how you may have whizzed through the day choosing not to do these little things. Instead, choose, always, to help advance women who don’t look like you.

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