A call to women of color in west Michigan aspiring to leadership roles

As a Latina and daughter to migrant farm workers, I was taught to be a spectator of life rather than a participant.

To get a good education so that doors would open and to get one in the law so that no one would take advantage of you. I was taught to blend in, not to be too outspoken or let my skin get too dark; to be polite and nice.

I assimilated so well that most people didn’t know I was Mexican. I married a man with a very Dutch last name. I didn't realize there were degrees of Dutch. People assumed that I was Dutch, really! Life was good. My soul was Mexican and my heart was Dutch.

Then came midlife when one starts to look in the rear view mirror and ask more questions then answers. I think midlife is a time when one begins to allow old dreams to re-emerge and evolve. It’s funny, when you open yourself to new horizons opportunities show up.

In 2013 I became a W. K. Kellogg Foundation Leadership Network fellow. As a fellow I experienced a spark waiting to be ignited in a way that I never saw coming. This was a learning of the soul, a way down deep alignment of being with the world. It was necessary to embrace who I was in the most authentic and transparent way if I was to come alongside other emerging women of color as a coach, mentor and friend. The fellowship gave me the opportunity to fully participate in my own life and the life of others as I learned about truth, equity and transformation.

I, along with another fellow, friend and colleague, Shannon Cohen, representing the Latina and African-American female professionals in Ottawa and Kent Counties, came together out of a merger of the heart and head. Committed to changing the narrative that there are no women of color to fill vacancies in the public, nonprofit and private sector organizations. Committed to championing the voices and inclusion of female leaders of color in the West Michigan workforce.

A research project emerged in our third year as fellows; the source came from our human connection and lived experiences. So often there is numeric data about racial disparities and gaps in our community but we don’t always hear the voices and experiences of those daily living at the intersection of race, gender, and leadership.

We are calling all women of color between the ages of 30 and 60 who work in or aspire to middle and upper middle leadership positions and who live or work in Kent or Ottawa County to participate in a survey. The purpose of the survey: to better understand the experiences of these women in order to remove the barriers that they face.

We envision the wisdom shared by women engaged in this study serving as a catalyst for the reform of systems, processes, networks, and workplace culture in West Michigan. This work will create authentic leadership possibilities where women of color are invited, retained, and empowered to be transformative in the marketplace, increasing their numbers as leaders in all sectors.

Please take the survey and spread the word about this important work. We invite you to circulate the link throughout your networks and groups. The first 500 respondents that complete the survey on or before August 31 will receive a $10 Amazon e-gift card.

What will your mid-life alignment look like?

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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duane
Mon, 08/22/2016 - 8:55am
If the problem is barriers created by isolating a group for being different from the group how does the problem get solved by limiting who their support to only those like them. It seems that previous groups have that have been isolated based on who they were broke the bonds of prejudious by assimilation. Why wouldn't that work in this situation. As an example, if woman in this group to become engineers wouldn't it be better to have them supported by engineers who can help the understand the path and provide the help that relates to the path. Similarly would that be true of each profession. And at the same time those in the support group learn the women's perspective and can apply that learning their work place setting to reduce the barriers these women will face. Rather than reinforce the 'reason' for isolation why not consider breaking the isolation by opening up who can support people.