Black History Month: Celebrate Black Women Taking the Lead

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With it being only a little over 100 years ago when the U.S. Congress finally ratified the 19th amendment on August 18, 1920, which ruled that women could not be denied the right to vote because of their sex.

This amendment was the result of hard-fought efforts from many women (and some men) who recognized that disenfranchisement then, as now, was a blight on the nation and hindered the U.S.’s potential to achieve its stated goals of becoming a functioning democracy.

The 19th amendment was especially significant for Black women who, despite the 15th amendment’s promises of voting rights regardless of race, still could not vote because of their gender that was passed by Congress February 26, 1869 and ratified February 3, 1870, granting African American men the right to vote.

The fact that it took two different constitutional amendments—passed a half century apart—to secure Black women’s right to vote underscores how both ‘race and gender‘ have always mattered in significant ways when it comes to women of color.

Coretta Scott King was a leader in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

After her husband’s death, she continued his work advocating for African Americans’ rights and became a leader in the women’s rights, LGBT rights and anti-apartheid movements. In her memoir, she reiterates how Black Women, pivotal to the Civil Rights Movement, were too often denied top leadership positions, and how she encountered resistance from some of her husband’s compatriots.

In today’s world, research indicates that Black Women are more ambitious and they are more likely to say that they want to advance in their companies than their White Women counterparts; but are less likely to find mentors who will aid their climb up the corporate ladder.

This independent nature is rooted in the fact that most white executives today rarely have black members on their inside circle and sometimes it is a function of white executives’ unfamiliarity and discomfort with Black Women, leaving no opportunity for mentorship.

Other times, this lack of mentoring is a consequence of intentional exclusion when leaders make it a point not to include Black Women in teams, as mentees, or on important projects. Whether this is a race or gender issue, it still is an issue.

Important to note these issues are not limited to Black Women.

In a recent study, sociologist Margaret Chin finds that Asian American women experience racialized and gendered forms of sexual harassment that leads to isolation and results in exclusion from leadership opportunities.

Winnie Wong is a co-founder of the People for Bernie and creator of the #FeelTheBern hashtag. She was also an organizer for the Occupy Wall Street movement and Women’s March on Washington.

Latinas, too, find that coworkers may interact with them based on stereotypes that they are unintelligent or illegally in the country, depictions that then require extra work to disprove.

Carmen Perez is a civil rights activist focusing on racial inequalities in criminal justice, and she served as a national co-chair for the Women’s March on Washington. “I want young girls to know they are powerful. They are necessary and they can become the leaders of the next generation,” she said.

“Race and racism create specific, unique challenges for women of color that are too easily ignored with broad platitudes that seek to advance women’s representation without questioning which women are most likely to benefit.”

Right now we’re saying, “Listen to Black women, protect Black women, see Black women,” but I really think that protect Black women is key. I think people need to actually make it a point to fight for us, be deeply invested in our well-being and, above all, trust Black women.

“The people I trust the most in the world are Black women, without question and if the world had listened to us more, we’d all be better for it. Put us in leadership positions, fight for our lives and our rights and our spirits. Affirm us.”

Luvvie Ajayi stated to Forbes inside their piece ‘When Black Women Lead, We All Win’.

UN Women posted on July 2020: “Around the world, protests against racism and discrimination, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, have shown we’re far from achieving equality. Black women face a multitude of injustices and intersecting inequalities, but they are also leaders and trailblazers in their countries and communities. In order to build a better, more equal world, gender equality movements cannot afford to leave anyone behind.

Throughout history and to this day, Black women from around the world have made extraordinary contributions to our societies, sometimes without any recognition.

Here are just seven incredible Black women who are standing against oppression and discrimination and leading the way towards a better future for all.”

Over a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, women in corporate America are even more burned out than they were last year; and increasingly more so than men.

Despite this, women leaders are stepping up to support employee well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts; but that work is not getting recognized, according to the latest Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey, in partnership with Black Women Who Lead at LeanIn.Org.

The experience of Black women at work differs from that of other Americans, even that of Black men and White women. Understanding Black women’s double minority status at work is a necessary part of building inclusive and equitable workplaces.

A survey conducted by the Gallup Center on Black Voices between Nov. 6 and Dec. 1, 2020, found that Black women are less likely to feel they are treated with respect in the workplace. They are also less likely to feel like a valued member of their team and that their coworkers treat everyone fairly.

When looking at the obstacles Black women face at work today, there are several different ways in which racism and sexism play out. One of those ways is in the form of microaggressions and insensitive comments made by peers that make Black women feel like outsiders.

For example, bestselling author and entrepreneur Minda Harts remembers first-hand how those microaggressions and comments impacted her career. After college, Harts landed a job working as an administrative assistant for a Fortune 500 company. During her first year in corporate America, she says she had a boss who made a comment about her burnt orange nail polish in front of other colleagues and joked for 15 minutes about “Black people loving bright colors.”

Harts, who is the CEO and founder of The Memo LLC, a career development company for women of color, says, “I learned at an early age to silence myself when it came to race, and it was at the expense of my own well-being.”

It was for this reason, she says, she wrote her book, “The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table,” because she wanted other marginalized women to know that it was okay for them “to talk about those inequalities” in order to advance at work.

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Black History Month is an annual observance originating in the United States, where it is also known as African-American History Month. It began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora.

In the USA, Black History Month begins today and is a time to celebrate the accomplishments and history of African Americans. The theme for Black History Monday 2022 is “Black Health and Wellness”, with special emphasis on healthcare access and improving wellness. The White House Proclamation for 2022 can be read here.

In Canada, people participate in Black History Month events and festivities that honor the legacy of Black Canadians and their communities. The 2022 theme for Black History Month is: “February and Forever: Celebrating Black History Today and Everyday”, which focuses on recognizing the daily contributions that Black Canadians make to Canada. The Prime Minister statement can be read here.

black and white photo of three black women leaders for black history month

In conclusion, Ellevate Network believes that all women hold the power they need to succeed, and the courage to lead others through adversity. So this month, we’ve highlighted some of the African American Women who have not only paved the way for all women, but have shown bravery and integrity in their pursuits in breaking barriers particularly for other women of color.

Need some quick inspo?
Here are the incredible women they’ve acknowledged this month.


The “Angry Black Woman” Stereotype at Work, by Daphna Motro, Jonathan B. Evans, Aleksander P.J. Ellis, and Lehman Benson III

Summary – The angry Black woman stereotype exists in many parts of American culture — including the workplace. Studies show people in organizations believe Black women are more likely to have belligerent, contentious, and angry personalities, an assumption not as readily assigned to other men and women.

Recent studies suggest this negative perception is a unique phenomenon for Black women, and the researchers suggest that when Black women outwardly express anger at work, her leadership and potential are called into question.

Harvard Business Review: How Black Women Describe Navigating Race and Gender in the Workplace, by Maura Cheeks

Forbes – Christine Michel Carter: Everyone Plays A Role In The Success Of Businesses Owned By Women And Those From Underrepresented Backgrounds. The onus is on both the corporate sector and individuals (peers, family, friends, etc.) to ensure minority-owned and woman-owned businesses succeed.

CNBC MakeIt: How corporate America’s diversity initiatives continue to fail Black women

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