You (Yes, you!) can be an ally to women of color at work

Women For Madison

SUMMARY: Women for Madison webinar outlines ways to help all professionals fulfill their potential. If you missed the March webinar or April rally with Jennifer Martineau, you can catch it all up here.

By Madi Rohm ’23

What can white women do to support the movement of women of color in organizational pipelines? What can men do? Over 300 registrants heard specific examples of how they can be effective allies during the Women for Madison webinar featuring Kick Some Glass co-author Dr. Jennifer Martineau. Creating Equitable, Inclusive, and Diverse Leadership Pipelines in Organizations was the first of many upcoming partnerships with the Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship and the School of Strategic Leadership Studies.

Professor Emeritus Karen Ford, former director of Strategic Leadership Studies, interviewed Martineau, who outlined ways to help all professionals fulfill their potential and create a work culture that promotes diversity. 

Organizations Benefit from Diversity

Martineau started the conversation discussing why a company’s policies on diversity aren’t merely, “something we should do,” but actually great drivers of success. A diverse employee population increases the amount of innovative solutions available to an organization, she said. “People are bringing different experiences through the lives that they’ve lived and the kinds of ways they’ve grown up….All of that brings additional creativity.” She said recruitment and branding are affected, too: When prospective employees are looking at an organization, having a diverse leadership team often attracts talent, particularly in younger generations.

Pipeline Problems

What’s standing in the way of women and people of color advancing to leadership positions? “There aren't the same number of women and people of color in senior level leadership positions as there are in entry level positions,' Martineau said.” This is a pipeline issue.” 

Martineau highlighted barriers such as:

  • lack of strong networks
  • biases during the hiring process
  • differences in development opportunities

Allyship is Key

How can organizations create inclusive and welcoming cultures? Martineau emphasized that the responsibility of change is “extra work” – work that should not fall solely on the backs of those who need the change to happen. “It's the responsibility of the organization,” Martineau said. “Not just those who suffer from the biases in place.” She provided several ideas:

  • Being intentional when assigning high profile projects and opportunities
  • Providing “rotational assignments” so everyone is working for change, and everyone gets to demonstrate their skill set
  • Creating systems for effective allyship, such as mentoring and sponsoring younger employees

Often there is a bias of, “I draw people like me into projects or special opportunities, because it's human nature to a certain degree,” Martineau said. “We're more comfortable with people who are ‘like us’ and if we aren't paying attention to it, that leaves out a large and very important portion of our workforce.”

Martineau states that “we as organizations need to be very intentional about who is getting those opportunities, who's getting the rotational assignments, who's getting to work on high visibility projects, and who’s getting opportunities to demonstrate their strength and skill set.”

For someone in middle management, or new on a team, who is wondering how they can commit to being an ally in an effective way, Martineau says: “Being an ally can happen in big and small ways.” It starts with paying attention to what you’re seeing: Are women’s ideas being ignored or spoken over? “Sticking up for them is an effective way to be an ally,” she said. “This is known as proactive visible allyship.”

Learn More

Watch the full webinar video above for more ideas from Martineau and to learn about Women for Madison, a diverse network of alumni, parents, students, faculty and friends of James Madison University who engage and inform women about the opportunities and needs of the university. Learn more »


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Published: Monday, May 2, 2022

Last Updated: Tuesday, December 20, 2022

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