Winitha Bonney is the founder and chief of digital media company and women of colour community Amina of Zaria, which is this year running its first #ColourFULL leadership and entrepreneurship conference and awards night for women of colour and allies.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Tell us a bit about #ColourFULL and the work you’re doing?
#ColorFULL is a one-day intensive, immersive leadership and entrepreneurship conference by and for women of colour. The space is also inclusive of allies, transgender and non-binary people, and also people of all abilities.
We’re creating a safe space for women of colour to have the conversations they need to have, but also providing them with the opportunity to build capacity, whether they desire to be leaders or entrepreneurs.
We’re making the space open to allies because we understand that they’re an important piece of the conversation. We can’t do it on our own. We’ve been doing it on our own for so long, and it’s not working.
There is a separate conversation around White privilege and White supremacy. We understand that there are a lot of people out there who do want to help but don’t know how to. So what we’re doing is creating a safe space for them to interact directly with the community, and for the community to say what need and want to move their business forward.
What drove you to launch the #ColourFULL conference?
It was primarily my experiences working in corporates and floating around in the startup ecosystem here in Australia. I had been to America and saw what was happening there, and had a totally different experience: they have a long way to go, but they have a lot more programs and initiatives. They have accelerator and pre-accelerator programs for women and people of colour, even breaking it down into African American and Latina cohorts. They have VC funds [focused just on these populations]. They just have so much more than we do in Australia.
So, the entrepreneur in me said: “Well here’s the problem. What’s the solution?”
As much as I’ve worked in the innovation space and believe in the power of technology, I also believe in the power of people physically coming together and the energy that is created from that. The solution to that problem is to give women of colour access to resources through platforms, organisations, and programs.
I’m all about action and my biggest strength is in business. I decided to use my strength to bridge the gap and build equality for women of colour in leadership and entrepreneurship.
What has the response from the community been like?
I am receiving messages every single day — it gets a bit overwhelming at times. I’m getting messages from all over the world: from America, Africa, India, New Zealand.
I think women of colour have kept silent, we’ve been told and taught to keep quiet.
I’ve personally had negative experiences, where [people have] completely shut the door on me. We have a double, sometimes triple glass ceiling [above us].
You would think that [White women], with the one glass ceiling they have — being in a male-dominated world — would give them a sense of empathy around that, to not shut the door when a woman of colour puts up her hand.
I’m focused on moving forward. I understand people might have legit reasons and they might be busy. But the fact that people are shutting doors and are not even willing to have that conversation is giving me the fuel that I need to keep going.
But I’ve had a lot of that, which has been quite disappointing.
This is the thing some people don’t understand: providing one person, which is me, with an opportunity, can provide an opportunity for 600 other women.
What I have also experienced, which has been quite refreshing, is there have been some White women who have well and truly bent forward. I’m hanging onto the people who have put their hands up, and who are keeping the door wide open. What it comes down to is providing me with an opportunity, so I can provide other women of colour opportunity through this conference.
Just having the event and publicising it has already given so many women of colour around the world permission to speak up and to speak out, and to make some really powerful decisions about their lives.
What kind of challenges have you come across?
I had quite a senior person who works in the D&I space in the big four [assume I was asking] for sponsorship. I reached out to her to share what I was working on, and asked if she knew any women of colour in her organisation who would be interested in this.
I didn’t say it explicitly in my email, but what I was looking for was speakers.
She replied back with: “Unfortunately no.” That was all I got.
It’s like with any other intersectional conversation — there are going to be people who don’t want to come for the ride.
This is what I’m doing with Amina of Zaria. This is why I’m advocating to the community, sharing my experiences.
We’re constantly being made to feel different, like we’re not good enough. We’re constantly made to feel like we’re the odd ones out, like we should not be heard, seen, or valued. Let’s not do that to other people.
When working with White women who are allies, my number one rule is to never treat people the way I’ve been treated. I encourage them, I open doors to them, I provide them with opportunities whenever I can, and I’m also their number one fan and number one champion.
I don’t treat White women like they are the bad people, but they don’t always understand the privilege, power, and influence that they do have. That’s why I always make a point of taking White women into spaces where they become the minority: it gives them a deeper level of understanding.
I’m also encouraging women of colour to become allies for people with other intersectional needs.