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Supporting Women of Color Leaders in Our Sector

Introducing the Anna Faith Jones & Frieda Garcia Women of Color Leadership Circle

February 27, 2020

By Andrea Madu, Senior Program Associate for Nonprofit Effectiveness, the Boston Foundation

“You can love what you see in the mirror, but you can't self-esteem your way out of the way the world treats you.” – Gabrielle Union

Growing up in a Nigerian household, I was surrounded by powerful women and was instilled with confidence and pride in my identity. My grandmother lived through the Biafran Civil war, was married off at a young age, and lost two of her children to treatable illnesses before she was 20 years old. She only ever spoke her native tongue Igbo and never learned how to read or write, but to me, she was the most brilliant, commanding, and powerful woman I have ever met. She taught me the power of resilience, hope, and never compromising your values, even when life throws every imaginable tragedy your way. She passed that strength on to my mother, who taught me to be confident and to never question my ability to lead. “Never let people tell you who you are. Show them who they’re dealing with,” she’d tell me whenever I deigned to question or second guess myself. Her words sit with me every day and have carried me through high-school, to Harvard, and now into my professional career.

 About the Leadership Circle

Women of color have always been the inspiration and driving force in my life. For me, the power of our leadership has never been in question. But in the world we live in, that power does not exist in a vacuum. It exists within and despite a system of oppression that can be suffocating in its ability to chip at our humanity. Every day, there is a moment, or several, where the world telegraphs to me either subtly or overtly that I do not fit, that I do not belong, and that I should not feel confident as a black woman, as a woman of color, in the spaces I occupy. Every time I’m mistaken for one of my black colleagues, when I am told I look like I’m ‘good at making copies’, when, before I can blink, some stranger has nestled their hands between my braids without my consent, a piece of my confidence wears away. And each time, I have to do the work to build myself up, heal, tap into my support system, and remember who I am. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

Women of Color Leadership Circle image

These experiences echo only a small part of what I know women of color in leadership roles are experiencing in Greater Boston and across the country. In the nonprofit sector especially, women of color are underrepresented, comprising under 10% of nonprofit leadership overall, a statistic that has not changed since 1994. We exist at the intersection of both race and gender and often experience overlapping forms of systemic oppression (e.g. racism, sexism, transphobia) that not only create barriers for career advancement but also have adverse effects on our physical and mental health. According to the Building Movement Project’s report, Race to Lead: Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector, women of color are less likely than their white and male counterparts to occupy executive positions in the nonprofit sector and, once they ascend to those roles, they are also less likely to receive the internal support and mentorship they need to advance their career goals, are subject to intense scrutiny and negative stereotypes, and are often overlooked for funding and leadership opportunities.

And yet, in spite of these challenges, women of color leaders consistently rise to the occasion as champions, mentors, advocates, collaborators, and barrier breakers. Look no further than the Boston City Council - in 2009, Ayanna Pressley became the first black woman and woman of color to be elected in its 107 years of existence. In 2017, six women of color won City Council seats, the highest number in our city’s history. While it may appear that these leaders are becoming more visible in our sector and we should celebrate these wins, monetary and other support for women of color remains staggeringly low. In fact, as of 2016, only 0.6% of foundation funding was granted to women of color. Women of color leaders, particularly from under-resourced organizations, often also have to do more with less funding, fewer staff members, and minimal support. As a result, these leaders are at risk of experiencing isolation, exhaustion, and burnout. While there is a clear need for resources dedicated to women of color leaders, few programs exist to address the unique challenges these leaders face.

As part of an ongoing effort to uplift the leadership and voices of women of color leaders in Greater Boston, we are launching the Anna Faith Jones & Frieda Garcia Women of Color Leadership Circle, facilitated by Kelly Bates, President, and Aba Taylor, Racial Equity & Training Practice Lead of Interaction Institute for Social Change. This project, originally conceived by Natanja Craig, Stephanie Guidry, and myself, is inspired by two groundbreaking women of color leaders: Anna Faith Jones and Frieda Garcia. In the 1990s, these two women led the Boston Foundation as the CEO and Board Chair and were both the first women of color to occupy those roles in our foundation’s history. The Women of Color Leadership Circle is inspired by the close partnership, vision, friendship, and legacy of these two incredible leaders. We stand on the shoulders of giants and these trailblazing women have paved the way for women of color within our sector.

We envision the Women of Color Leadership Circle as a safe space for belonging, fellowship, learning, unlearning, self-care, and restoration, where participants can share their challenges and frustrations and learn and grow from each other’s experiences. While the experiences of women of color differ across race, class, and gender identity, we believe leaders within the cohort can support each other to navigate the individual and collective challenges they may face. Through this pilot, we also hope to develop more effective ways to support women of color leaders within the nonprofit sector.

This work would not be possible without the support of my beloved design team: Kelly Bates, Aba Taylor, Talissa Lahaliyed, Fernanda Oliveira Costa, Evelyn Barahona, Trina Jackson, Suzanne Lee, Sheena Collier, Renata Teodoro, and Karla Nicholson; the leadership, allyship, and support of Orlando Watkins and Jennifer Aronson, Vice President and Associate Vice President for Programs at the Boston Foundation, and our funding partner in this work, the Angell Foundation. So much laughter, love, wisdom, and light went into the design of this program and I feel honored and privileged to launch this work and to support the vision and leadership of women of color in our city.

To learn more about the Women of Color Leadership Circle, please visit our program webpage. To apply for the program, please click here. If you have any questions, please reach out to me at GvUo1yIcjOKPlfhRX3D8NHaxDx04Azko22H+1eQDiMEGjAfOmlRCrObOJzYRkLwQgb2CutleSaV3tnarrGKdAk0X1iOmA/WRV6b3Ge7xPJpZ+QrX63oOYJyHyeCVrEd0pZ7UOCxF2H6nCRArELaZTci9tEhrg3DBGPFZ95Sdg8o3MGQrEIL5Jv17FChEuly6 or 617-338-2608.