It's about to get real up in here. Today I am talking specifically to my white sisters in business.
Here's the deal: white privilege is real. Now, hold tight - stick with me here. It is an issue in our community. And as a white woman who sees the pain it causes her sisters of color, I feel compelled to talk about it.
If your first reaction is to say "No! This isn't an issue in our online and creative entrepreneur communities - we're independent thinkers! We support all individuals!" I want you to think about this...
Who is featured in the majority of stock images?
When's the last time you saw a conference or event with a well-mixed lineup of speakers?
How many times have you been to a conference where the majority or indeed all of the attendees were white?
Who are the industry leaders that seem to have the loudest voice?
White privilege is a fact, not an opinion. I frequently hear this justification: "Well, they are a minority group so there are fewer of them. It stands to reason that they would be less featured in stock images/events/leadership positions/etc." At first glance, this seems logical. Because statistically, yes, that's reasonable. But the truth is, that's not how any industry works. They are never an exact representation of the society they operate in, and this is definitely true among entrepreneurs. In fact, African American women are the fastest growing demographic running start-ups. (Sources here: http://www.blackenterprise.com/small-business/black-women-business-owners-outpace-all-other-startups-six-times-national-average/ and http://fortune.com/2015/06/29/black-women-entrepreneurs/) These women are killing it! Since they are leaders in this particular industry, why is their representation so disproportionate? It almost seems that the industry conveniently forgets that they exist!
Maybe you're asking why something as seemingly minor as stock imagery is important. I mean, it's mostly just pictures of people standing around holding coffee mugs anyway. Why does the model's skin color matter? Well, imagine this scenario. You are walking through a mall, and you see two stores. Their clothing inventory is identical, but one features black mannequins, African American models in their imagery and window signage, and there are African American employees working inside. The store next door has white mannequins, white models in their signage, and is staffed with white employees. Which store are you going to walk into? The answer is simple: whichever one lets you more easily visualize YOURSELF wearing their merchandise. Representation sells. If I can easily identify myself in your brand, business, or product, then I am more likely to buy. Period! This is basic psychology. People of color need to be represented in our branding so they can see that we are here for them, we are looking for them, and we would love to work with them!
What about all those white speaker lineups? Some event planners try to defend themselves with statements like "It's not intentional, I just don't know any African American women to invite." Really? They're the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs, and you don't know any? It's 2017. The world is at your fingertips - expand your circle! It's time to mix and mingle, people! I'm not saying that you should book a black woman based solely on her skin color. That is JUST as bad! That makes her the token minority at your event. And in my opinion, that is horribly disrespectful. What's a girl to do?
Start fostering new relationships today, before it's time to reach out to speakers. My friend Monique recommends Googling "Women of color who are __" (business coaches, copywriters, web designers, etc.) and then following them on social media. Buy their products or services. Start building those connections! My friend Kristin suggests that every time you follow a calligrapher, photographer, or other creative entrepreneur on Instagram, take it one step further and search for someone who works in the same field but is a WOC. The thing to remember is that if you don't intentionally expand your network, you will never learn anything new. It is imperative to seek out relationships with people who have had different experiences than you, or your perception of the world is going to be embarrassingly skewed. This is true in all of life, not just in business.
Our voices as white women are louder. It's not fair, but it's true. We do statistically outnumber people of color in American society. The result is that our collective voices are more valued and more heard. And we've acknowledged that this effect is visible in everything from being picked first for speaking gigs, to being automatically represented in imagery everywhere.
So now what? You've read this post, and hopefully you've been made aware of the ways white privilege is giving you an advantage. Don't get hung up on defending yourself; it's not actually about you, individually, at all. It's about systemic advantage and why each of us must take action to stack the cards more fairly. Now is the time to use our voices and platforms for positive change. Now is the time to branch out and start cultivating those relationships with our African American sisters. Start representing them in your brand. Start inviting them to speak at your conference or retreat. Ask them to guest post on your blog. Make a space for them to share their voice that they currently don't have!
Let me share some resources with you today!
I highly recommend EntrepreFriendships, a book by Monique Melton. It will guide you through building friendships in the entrepreneurial community! http://moniquemelton.com/entreprefriendships/
I also recommend checking out CreateHer stock images. This company is working to represent African American women in a variety of stock imagery! http://www.createherstock.com/
Finally, just go out there and meet some people who may not look like you!
I may have stepped on a few toes with this blog post. And you know what? I don't mind. I think that's what it feels like to grow - facing the things that make us uncomfortable. That's where society makes progress. So drop your thoughts in the comments below! I'd love to hear from you!