The "Problem" Woman of Colour in the Workplace

The “Problem” Woman of Colour in NonProfit Organizations

The “Problem” Woman of Colour in the Workplace

A couple of years ago, COCo discovered an earlier version of this tool, which depicts a common experience for women of colour (and especially Black women) working in the nonprofit sector. The diagram, which was originally developed in the United States, really struck us. It spoke to many of the stories employees in the nonprofit sector had told us about their own experiences; it also told the ‘story’ of much of the data we were reading  from other research into racism in nonprofit organizations, not to mention the data we were collecting ourselves as part of our Diversité d’Abord research project (more on that in a minute). About a year after we started using it in trainings and discussion groups, it went viral on social media, with thousands of shares- another sign of its continuing relevance in 2018. Since then, we’ve been inundated with interest and inquiries about this tool and what it means.

How does this relate to COCo’s research on racism in nonprofits?

In the coming months, COCo will be releasing our own research into the question of racism in the nonprofit sector. In the meantime, there has been so much interest in this tool that we felt it was time to make it publicly available.

Our own research involved 2 online surveys and a series of focus groups. From what we already have seen in the data we collected, much of the survey findings support empirically what the tool depicts about the experience of women of colour in nonprofits. For example, within the last 3 years, ~30% of our racialized survey respondents said they had left a job due to an unwelcoming racial environment. At the same time, the data also shows that white respondents gave different reasons why their racialized colleagues had left their jobs, for example, thinking their colleagues had left because “they got a better job,” or “they want to spend more time with their family,”. Overall, white respondents underestimated how many people of colour were leaving their jobs because of discrimination by 15%. In contrast, the rate at which people of colour working in nonprofits reported witnessing their racialized peers leaving the sector because of unwelcoming racial environments was pretty much on par with the actual rate of people leaving.

How to Use the Tool in Your Nonprofit Organization

Throughout our workshops, we have asked:

  • What is the impact of this dynamic on the woman of colour in the organization?
  • What is the impact of this dynamic on the organization?
  • What is the impact of this dynamic on the community sector at large?

These questions can be a great starting point to start discussing this tool within your own organization. The tool can be used for workshops or discussions of different lengths, broadly to discuss race dynamics in an industry or area of work, or to explore specific policies and practices within your organization. If the environment you are working in is supportive enough, talking about the specifics of this pattern in your nonprofit, rather than in general, can make it a lot easier to identify real changes. We are experimenting with developing worksheets that can help people deepen their analysis, name their experiences, and use this tool more effectively in their workplaces. Most importantly, the tool invites women of colour to share their stories and to be believed BECAUSE it centres their experiences.

A few notes

We adapted this tool with permission from the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for NonViolence. One of the changes we made was to have the “woman of colour” be represented as wearing a hijab. While we understand that women who wear hijab can have many different racial backgrounds, we felt that this image allows us to make an explicit connection between racism and Islamophobia in Quebec- a connection that many women live every day.

We also know that while our own work centres in Quebec, and on nonprofits, this tool is also relevant outside of the nonprofit sector, and we’re totally happy to see people using this wherever it feels appropriate.

Download (PDF, 61KB)

7 replies
  1. Naomi Cromwell says:

    Hi! I’m interested in learning more about your research abotu racism in the nonprofit sector and whether it extends beyond Quebec to other Canadian provinces. I was interested in mounting a similar project in BC focusing on the arts sector. Would love to learn more about your process of collecting data and possibly collaborate if it feels appropriate for both of us. Cheers 🙂

    • Jenna says:

      @Tea, as a white person in a nonprofit setting, I see many places to help find a solution. Can the “all white leadership” change? Can we not make tokenzing hires? Can we not make it women of colour’s responsibility to point out inequity and issues? Can we not respond defensively when they do bring these up? Every step of the way on this path, there are places to make changes.

  2. Cheree says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I am First Nation Australian and recently went through this in a feminist NGO. Racism is a huge problem in Australia.

    Would love to be included and learn more about your research.

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