Happy Monday! We enjoyed celebrating our mothers last weekend (we won’t even attempt to explain how much they mean to us, just know there would be no Uncolorblind without them), and we needed some time to digest the Mother’s Day tribute written by Sheryl Sandberg, famously known as the author of Lean In and Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, Inc. If you haven’t had a chance to read Sandberg’s post, you can check it out here.
We recognize Sandberg as a dynamic leader and executive, but we were less than impressed with her call for women in corporate America to “lean in.” In short, her advice for tackling corporate America fell short and flat for us as women of color because it omitted the additional challenges and barriers that women of color must overcome to “lean in.” Don’t get us wrong, the book is filled with some gems, but in addition to grappling with being a professional woman in fields often dominated by men, women of color are also facing other forces beyond their control, like institutional and structural racism, implicit bias, and microaggressions. We can’t really talk about advancing women in corporate America without acknowledging women of color and the differences and difficulties in their experiences.
Which brings us to Sandberg’s Mother’s Day post. It’s dope for so many reasons. After tragically losing her husband last year (RIP, Dave Goldberg) and becoming a single mother, Sandberg acknowledged that Lean In fell short and did not account for the different journey certain groups of working women, like single mothers, face in corporate America:
In Lean In, I emphasized how critical a loving and supportive partner can be for women both professionally and personally—and how important Dave was to my career and to our children’s development. I still believe this. Some people felt that I did not spend enough time writing about the difficulties women face when they have an unsupportive partner or no partner at all. They were right.
Sandberg also acknowledged that the situation for single mothers of color is even more dire:
I think we all owe it to single mothers to recognize that the world does not make it easy for them, especially for those who struggle to make ends meet. Forty percent of families headed by a single mother in the United States live in poverty, compared to just 22 percent of families headed by a single father and 8 percent of married couple families. Single parent families headed by women of color face even more barriers: 46 percent of families headed by black and Hispanic single mothers live in poverty.
We definitely appreciate Sandberg’s acknowledgment of Lean In’s blindspots. The ability to admit your own narrowness and limitations is legit. And classy. For sure, for sure.
But… (Y’all knew the ‘but’ was coming, after all this is Uncolorblind and we keep it realer than real here.) We have questions.
Why didn’t Sandberg see the light before now? Like, seriously. She’s a progressive leader in her own right, who’s traveled the world and run some of America’s most complex businesses and slayed at it. So why didn’t she happen upon this profound realization, that varying groups of working women face very different challenges in corporate America, before now?
And we also have some answers because we’ve been black women in this corporate America hustle long enough that we’ve seen this happen before. Multiple times. It’s like the invisibility we feel when corporations celebrate Columbus Day and Pulaski Day (Chicago-specific), but we have to use a floating holiday to celebrate MLK Day. Or when the women’s issues that are most pressing at your company don’t reflect the issues you face as a woman of color, such as having to overcome the negative stereotypes about your community that your colleagues bring to work with them.
This exclusion of women who don’t fit the paradigm of the average white woman is not purposeful most of the time, but it’s also often an after-thought like the one Sheryl Sandburg had on Mother’s Day. On the one hand, we’re glad the “a-ha moment” came, but tackling women’s issues at work really has to be broader than the experiences of married, financially stable white women. Don’t get us wrong, the experiences of our white sisters in the struggle are valuable and the issues they face are real, but the narrative has to include us. Women of color. Single mothers. Disabled women. Bi-lingual women. Women who were born in other countries. All of us.
Because every time we’re excluded, the male-dominated institutions that we’re fighting to change take a “W” that day. It’s a win for them every time they can divide and conquer, every time they can make women forget the inherent power in ourselves and our sisterhood. We are all in this together, after all, and wouldn’t it be more effective, efficient, and downright bad a** if we were fighting to change the gender wage gap, crappy maternity policies, and so much more as a UNITED FRONT?
So let’s all take a page out of Sandberg’s newfound book. Open those beautiful eyes and attempt to understand the struggle of your fellow women in corporate America. And even if you can’t understand fully, accept that your experience is not the only one out there. When you fight for change, fight for all of us. Take your seat at the table, and don’t forget to pull up a chair for a few other women who don’t look like you. Make sure their voices are heard, too. Believe it or not, it’s going to take all of us, working together, to change the paradigm of success that features only white men.