There’s An Assault On Diversity And Inclusion. What Can A New Era For Black Women Professionals Look Like?


Minda Harts | Photo by Dalvin Adams

On July 1, 2023, Harvard University celebrated a groundbreaking moment: Dr. Claudine Gay became its first African-American president. However, within six months, efforts from past alumni prompted her resignation. Her departure was significant, not just for the event itself, but because she chose to share her experiences in a New York Times op-ed. For Black women, the ability to narrate our own stories is rare, especially after leaving challenging work environments. Too often, our stories are overshadowed or misrepresented by others. 

Dr. Gay’s decision to speak out resonated with me deeply. In 2019, I faced a similar crossroads, leaving my dream job for my well-being after experiencing a toxic work environment. Like Dr. Gay, I understood the immense courage it takes to walk away from a career we’ve passionately built, particularly when it impacts our psychological safety. I shared parts of my journey in my debut book The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table. I also addressed how to heal from those environments in my second book, Right Within.

In her resignation, Dr. Gay highlighted the courage that sustained her career and the need for such bravery to stand against forces that threaten the uniqueness of universities. This message is vital for Black women, especially in a climate where affirmative action and inclusion efforts are scrutinized.

A pivotal question emerges: Where do we go from here, especially amid the ongoing war against diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives (DEI)? This question isn’t just about a single event or individual; it’s about the larger narrative of Black women in professional spaces and how we navigate these turbulent times.  We’re witnessing a pushback against the strides made in workplace rights, a movement that seeks to roll back the progress of years, if not decades. Yet, in this resistance, we find a renewed call to action – not to be diminished by these setbacks but to rise above them with greater determination.

The current war on equity isn’t just a battle for policies or practices; it’s a fight for the soul of our workplaces and communities. It’s a war against acknowledging our diverse experiences and denying the richness that this diversity brings. We can’t let this deter us. Instead, we must use this fuel as a catalyst to double down on our efforts to promote belonging and inclusivity. Our goal should be to create spaces where everyone can thrive in the workplace and not just survive, regardless of race, age, identity, gender, or disability. 

It’s important to lean into our optimism at this particular time in our history. Looking towards the future, we have three choices: To embrace our courage and push beyond caution. Second, to let our curiosity for potential workplace happiness outweigh other people’s fears, including our own. And third, to trust ourselves, knowing our worth isn’t defined by others’ perceptions of our qualifications, talent, or competence.

What does that look like in real time? To guide your choice-making for the future, consider these actionable steps:

  1. Embrace the challenge of new opportunities, even those that feel daunting. Growth is often found beyond the boundaries of comfort.
  2. Venture into work realms that spark your genuine interest, diverging from your established path if necessary. Engage in workshops, seek mentors, or initiate projects that resonate with your passions.
  3.  Consistently acknowledge and celebrate your skills and successes. Compile a ‘Power Book’ – a collection of achievements, accolades, and standout moments. Turn to this portfolio for a confidence boost whenever you face doubt.

By taking these steps, Black women can navigate their professional landscapes with confidence and resilience, shaping a future where their talents are recognized and their contributions valued.

We must reject any notion of returning to ‘normal’ if it means diminishing our progress. Instead, we should advance towards a better, more inclusive world. Remember, you always deserve humanity, dignity, equity, and respect in the workplace. By instilling self-worth in the next generation, we can role model a world where diversity is accepted and celebrated.

To all Black women: Your power, capability, and entitlement to every opportunity is undeniable. Others’ challenges do not define your journey. Let’s convert adversity into opportunity and build a future where Black women and girls can realize their full potential, unshackled from past constraints and assumptions. Your unique story is vital, and the world awaits your voice. You have always had your voice. Now you just have to decide how you want to use it. 

Together, we build a legacy of strength, unity, and progress. Our success is not a solo sport.

Minda Harts is an NYU assistant professor and founder of The Memo LLC, shaping future leaders and empowering professionals. Harts was honored by LinkedIn as the #1 Top Voice for Equity in the Workplace in 2020 and by Business Insider as one of the top 100 People Transforming Business in 2022.


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