“Give yourself permission to make mistakes”: Three ways to be a better ally to women of colour in business

Winitha Bonney

Winitha Bonney speaking on a panel at the launch of ColourFULL 2020. Source: YBF Ventures.

As an expert on the future of work, and a thought leader on advancing women of colour in leadership and entrepreneurship, Winitha Bonney has pretty much been an entrepreneur since she was 15 years old. In 2016, she founded digital media company Amina of Zaria, and now she’s also heading up #ColourFULL, a conference and awards night by women of colour, for women of colour. 

Both in her business and when running events, Bonney is deliberate in bringing allies — White men and women — along on the journey. For her, if we’re all to rise together, we need good allies. So, we asked her what one of them looks like.

Bring others along

“There’s a huge movement that’s happening around equality for women and in the feminism space. My encouragement to White, cis women is to take other people who are not like them along with them on the journey.

If you’re asked to speak at an event, say that it’s conditional that they take someone else who has a difference to them.

If you’re a White woman, say yes, but say you’ll only speak if they provide an opportunity for a woman of colour.

If you get accepted into an accelerator program, ask them if they have opportunities for women of colour to be a part of that program. If they don’t, work with them to provide those opportunities.

A really effective way to be an ally is, whatever opportunity you’ve been provided with, to ask that person that they also provide a space for a woman with a disability or a woman of colour.

That is a really important part of it. What we need to be seeing more of at events, in programs and in female membership-based organisations, is intersectionality.

White women can’t keep segregating themselves any longer.”

Be actively inclusive

“Employers and investors can ensure that their marketing material is as inclusive as possible — the images they’re using, the words they’re using, the languages their website is available in. All of that can be inclusive of people who are not like them.

Then, they need to look really deeply at their cohort makeup. What’s the makeup of their board? Any communities that they have, what’s the makeup of them? Or their employees?

A lot of organisations will have D&I committees, but it’s just about going about it at a grassroots level. There’s a lot happening in the migrant, refugee and immigrant space, in terms of entrepreneurship, and I think that’s very siloed compared to what we call mainstream. In the arts, we have mainstream art and if you’re a person of colour, they group you into community arts. Entrepreneurship is exactly the same. 

One easy win people can do is to go to those events. In my local community there was a pre-accelerator program for people from migrant backgrounds, and they had a pitch night. 

Be ready and willing to learn, and give yourself permission to be wrong. Become the student, don’t go as a teacher.

You are going to do things that are racist, you are going to be sexist — in the comments that you make and the words that you use, and your body language. That’s a part of learning. But the journey isn’t going to start if you don’t start somewhere.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes, to be really clunky and really chaotic at the beginning, but to also really speak that out and let them you know you’re on a journey, that you want to learn, and to let them know you’re on a journey, that you want to learn, and to apologise if anything you cause harm.

Position yourself as a student. Do your research, repeatedly. Go on Google, don’t default to asking women of color to educate you if they haven’t volunteered. I write a lot of posts on LinkedIn, and there are a lot of people doing that. Read it, share it with people like yourself.”

Be intentional

A lot of people, including entrepreneurs, will get business coaching or executive coaching.

I would be really surprised to find out the amount of founders or people in the ecosystem that have received coaching around White supremacy and dismantling some of those biases they have within them. And doing the work with the coach deeply, on a weekly or fortnightly basis.

Seek out a person of colour coach and do that work with them.

If they’re that serious about making money with their business, it seems absolutely absurd that they would not spend money on coaching. Because you can’t do it alone, and you doing it with other White folks is not going to solve the problem.”

This article is part of SmartCompany‘s special IWD 2020 edition. It was commissioned and guest-edited by Culture Amp’s Aubrey Blanche.

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