In many organizations across the non-profit sector, women of color contribute an exorbitant amount of time and energy designing and implementing innovative strategies that address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion within an organizational context. They do this by participating or leading, task forces designed to address organizational diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). These positions offer some women of color the opportunity to affect racial, gender and economic justice within these institutions and systems.
In addition, many of these women are firsts in their organizations; the first woman in leadership, the first person of color director, the first woman of color allowed to rise the ranks. They serve as mentors, protectors, and advocates for younger people of color trying to work their way up. On top of it all, these nonprofit leaders have demanding and important jobs to do that may have nothing to do with fighting for DEI in their organizations.
Historically, women of color have felt compelled to remind white peers of the devastating impact of racism on people of color in general, and women of color in particular. For demanding their intersecting identities be acknowledged in social justice theories and systems change strategies, women of color found themselves blamed for purposely dividing the women’s movement and shamed for hindering progress.
In some ways, the nonprofit sector in the Philadelphia region reflects this pattern of relationship. Non-profit institutions are often led and staffed by well-meaning white men, white women, and men of color. Many organizations within the nonprofit sector strive to contribute to a more just and equitable world, yet struggle to align their day to day operations with these values. Women of color in these organizations often experience first-hand the ways in which nonprofits fall short of the ideal they aim for.
As within broader movements for change, women of color are compelled to speak out. When they do, they find themselves in the line of fire, facing daily micro-aggressions from colleagues, leadership, obstructionist policies, and backlash. As a result, women of color working to address DEI in nonprofits may feel angry, isolated, and overwhelmed. They may also be at risk of becoming overworked, burnt-out, disengaged, and potentially leaving these institutions and the sector all together.
Women of Equity (WE) looks to curtail the mental and physical risks associated with addressing DEI in nonprofits. WE is a program developed and led by women of color, for women of color. Participants meet monthly to support one another, heal, and build resilience. In addition, they share tools and knowledge they have gained around diversity, equity and inclusion in non-profits. Together, they build a collective understanding of best practices and pitfalls of addressing DEI within the non-profit sector. These findings are documented and made available to the wider community as a resource.