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Spotlight on: the Women of Colour Global Network


Meet Haseena Farid, Managing Director and Co-Founder of the Women of Colour Global Network. It's an organisation close to ReCulture's heart, with Raina not only a member of WOCGN but a passionate advocate for diversity in the workplace. So we sat down with Haseena to discuss the journey so far and future plans.

Hi Haseena. Where did the idea for the WOCGN come from?

WOCGN was an idea that myself and my Co-Founder Mylene Sylvestre had working at The Guardian News and Media. It was post George Floyd and we were having a conversation about how nice it was to be working with another senior woman of colour. This led us to reflect on how few women of colour we had seen in leadership throughout the course of our careers. The representation just wasn’t there.

So we set off trying to understand why. We did research, looked at statistics and tried to understand whether this was creative sector specific, which it wasn’t. Across the board, representation of women of colour in ‘power positions’ was – and still is – very low. It’s 1% and of that 0.3% are black females (Green Park, Colour of Power Index report, 2020). In comparison to the proportion of ethnic minorities across the UK, it’s a startling statistic.

Our next step was to understand why women of colour weren’t getting to these positions. For example, was it about organisational cultures, recruitment practices or something else?

What we learnt from the data was that at every stage of the career journey, from entering work to senior leadership, women of colour were not reaching their potential. This is due to a set of compounded barriers that they face. Navigating not only gender, but racial and other intersectional biases that interact to create a unique and complex experience of disadvantage or inequality in the workplace. Often resulting in a lack of visibility and limited access to opportunities for career progression as their counterparts.

Where does WOCGN fit in?

We were also doing a lot of mentoring of women of colour at the time and learning about their lived experiences. The same issues kept coming up. They didn’t feel like they could be themselves and felt they were having to code switch. They also encountered discrimination of their race, gender, class and, in some cases, disabilities.

Many felt emotionally burnt out and were considering leaving their organisations. In addition, it became clear that women of colour often lacked “Sponsorship” (the internal advocacy or access to professional networks) to reach leadership positions.

We started to think about what could be the most helpful thing for these women – and what would’ve been valuable to us in our careers. The conclusion we reached is that women of colour needed a mentor that looked like them. Someone who was in a senior position. Because when you don’t see anyone who looks like you, you accept that’s the status quo and try to navigate it the best you can, and it can be exhausting.

By giving them access to women who understood their situation – because they themselves had been through similar challenges and overcome them – we could support their advancement. We were also conscious that whilst mentoring is part of the solution, women of colour also need sponsors and allies who could champion them within their organisations.

How does it work?

We launched Pathways - our flagship mentoring and sponsorship programme for women of colour employees.

This is a nine-month programme where women of colour in organisations are matched with a senior professional woman of colour Mentor from outside their organisation. In parallel, they get matched with an internal leadership Sponsor whose objective it is to proactively advocate for their potential and use their networks, influence and resources to help create pathways for advancement for talented WOC mentees.

As part of the programme, the women also receive professional development. They tell us where the needs are, whether it’s speaking out, influencing, stakeholder management, etc. and we give them the training and support they need.

We do a lot of evaluation so we can see what happens to these women over the course of the programme. We also invite them to then join the network so we can monitor their future progress. We already have over 1,500 women of colour and allies across different industries who are part of the Network, but we want to keep on growing.

You also run a number of events. What can you tell us about them?

We have a community aspect, where we run a series of bi-monthly events for our network called Trailblaze.

The idea behind them is to showcase the talent of women of colour from different industries. We want to give them a platform. These are women doing incredible work within their organisations and they’re often unsung heroes. They’ve often faced some real challenges to get to where they’ve got to.

So we ask them to talk through their stories and offer practical tips and insights to help women who are coming up and into similar organisations. It doesn’t feel like networking. It’s a room full of women from different levels who feel like they’re part of a community that supports one another.

So, what’s next for the WOCGN?

We’ve piloted the programme with some companies and are now rolling it into some global brands. We want to go across all sectors, not just creative. To achieve that, we’re broadening our pool of mentors from different sectors.

We also want to bring other opportunities to the network. Things like speaking opportunities or highlighting employment vacancies we know of in organisations.

We also want to work with women who are already at that senior level but feel like they don’t have the support network they need – maybe they feel isolated and lonely at the top. They might be the only person of colour or woman at the board room table, so we’re keen to find ways to support them.

You can find out more about the Women of Colour Global Network via its website wocgn.com, or by following on LinkedIn.


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