“A BLESSING: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive” Co-Authors Bonita Stewart and Jacqueline Adams joins The Final Round panel to discuss the Women of Color empowerment movement and the progress that has been made.
– A group of unicorns is called a blessing. And it’s also the title of the new book, “A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower, and Thrive.” and joining us now are the two authors. We have Bonita Stewart. She’s the first African American female vice president at Google. Jacqueline Adams, the first African American female correspondent formerly assigned to cover the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses for CBS News.
Welcome. I mean, you guys both have incredible stories. I was reading the book today. I really love– at the end of it, you have these takeaways, action items and questions that you can ask yourself. You write about being the only, the unicorn. And your book has lots of data from a survey that you both did.
And Bonita, I want to start with you. Nearly half of Black women in this survey are frequently or always the only person of color in a professional situation. And you contrast that with 73% of white women saying they are rarely the only’s. Here we are in an election. We just heard from a member of the Biden-Harris campaign. What does Senator Kamala Harris on the Democratic ticket, do you think, mean and do in terms of changing this for women?
BONITA STEWART: Well, I think first, even prior to Senator Harris being nominated as our vice presidential candidate, one of the things that Jackie and I looked at when we started to think about how we could create a new narrative for women of color is the fact that we wanted to ensure that we had an actual playbook for progress.
But we looked back and found that, in fact, we are winning. Women of color represent over $1 trillion of consumer spending and 164% growth in entrepreneurship from 2007 to 2018. And so we are winning in so many different ways. And in fact, Black women are the most educated group in the US. We are getting college degrees greater than any other cohort.
And so if you look at today and look at the past, we are winning. And that’s why, as Harvard Business School alums, we thought, let’s bring in data. Data matters. And we commissioned our own original proprietary research. We went and looked at 4,005 American female desk workers. But we looked across four races, Black white, Latinx, and Asian.
And then what was most illuminating is the fact that there are four generations that we surveyed across Gen Z, millennials, Gen X, as well as boomers. And so this was able to provide us with more information around how women of color are making progress and continue to make progress, but more importantly, how could we capitalize on this treasure trove of untapped talent?
– So Jackie, I have a question for you here, as Bonita was just highlighting that you guys surveyed women across several different races, but also several different age groups. Your book talks a lot about allyship, not just among particularly women of color, but even across gender– or, excuse me, across other races as well.
Wondering if you saw any differences when it came to the generations in terms of their responses and how they view the workplace, and if their answers perhaps left any room or space to create allyship among the different races and across those different generations, based on how the women view themselves in their own workplace.
JACQUELINE ADAMS: Yes, it’s a really interesting study. And we find that particularly among Gen Z and millennial women, the youngest women, they are incredibly confident. They understand that they will have control over their own careers. They are innovators. They are first adopters of technology. They feel that they could get another job if they wanted one.
So that provides an impetus for what we’re calling inclusive leaders to not only try to find and hire these women, but also they may need new strategies to retain them, to win the war for talent.
And we specifically address leaders– and let’s be honest, many, of them most of them, are white men. We ask them to become our allies. We are their allies. And we tell them to hire us, to hire us in multiples, and look for potential, not just perfection, and to consider hiring people with other types of skin color or hairstyles, and not just hiring people who look like them.
– And what kind of advice do you give women once they get that job in navigating the workplace?
JACQUELINE ADAMS: Well, I went back to talk to some of the people that I worked with when I started my career. And the reason that this particular ally said that I was successful was because I knew how to do the job. I was upbeat and positive, and because I said yes to almost everything.
I mean, we have to be careful. We want stretch assignments. Not everyone is the perfect stretch assignment. But I think that women of color, throughout our history in this country, have shown great resilience, great grit. And the missing piece has been teaming up to working with one another across the generations. And that’s a big part of our message, this sisterhood message.
– Bonita, I want to ask you about the tech industry in particular. And there’s a lot of data that you have about women actually starting businesses. And we’re seeing that even right now during this uneven recovery, where women in the labor market and Black and Latinx women in particular have been hit very hard.
The tech industry, though– I’m not just going to pick on them. Banking also has some problems. But tech and Silicon Valley, where we use the word “unicorn” differently, has had trouble getting diversity in. We’ve had a lot of companies pledging that they are going to be changing their ways. Are you confident that we are going to see the ranks of tech companies diversify here pretty quickly?
BONITA STEWART: Well, I think there is a commitment. And there’s two sides to technology. I happen to be on the business side, and then, of course, there is the product and engineering side. I can speak to quite frankly, the business side.
And I do think I am quite optimistic. But we do need to change in terms of building the capability across leaders. And it will be important to ensure that we are hiring in multiples and focusing on building strong leadership capability.
And that is one of the areas that we worked on, is not just looking at the individual themselves, but think about, who is actually hiring? Who is selecting individuals to ascend? So we believe that it’s important to think about building the capability of leaders.
And we looked at a number of– lots of research, as you can imagine. You have read all of it. But we looked at certain signature traits. And for inclusive leaders to actually thrive and for others to actually create a sense of belonging in these environments, it’s important for them to actually move beyond IQ, think about, yes, emotional intelligence and EQ, but move into this new arena of building cultural intelligence.
And that is going to take commitment to actually hiring. But the era of tokenism is really over. It should be no more, really, one and done. They’re going to have to be courageous in moments, getting comfortable, being uncomfortable, and also having an element of curiosity.
And one of the things that we talk about in the book, which is a differentiator– any articles that you read about ascension to the top, it really is that stretch assignment. And so we talk about the fact that for women of color, just think about it. We use the analogy to 40 acres and a mule, which we didn’t get post-Reconstruction. But here we are today.
And as companies are thinking about growing their business and being more inclusive, we’re saying, as you bring in people of color and particularly women of color, why not surround them with 40 allies and a stretch assignment, which would allow them to have a sense of belonging, and at the same time, having the critical feedback that they need to thrive?
– Well, the book is “A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower, and Thrive.” a lot of good stuff in there. So good to talk to both of you, Bonita Stewart and also Jackie Adams.