Recently, Michelle Obama criticized Sheryl Sandberg’s “lean in” approach for women to advance in the workplace, saying “that s–t doesn’t work all the time.” But the former first lady isn’t the only one who has challenged Sandberg’s commonly referenced business motto, which puts the responsibility solely on women to take ownership of their career without mentioning the systemic barriers for women of color in the workplace.
Earlier this year, during an interview with Fast Company, Minda Harts, the founder of The Memo, dismantled a few career strategies from Sandberg’s New York Times best-seller.
“Lean In was well-intentioned and opened up the conversation, but, you cannot effectively talk about leaning in for black or brown women without discussing the role that race plays and the barriers to even enter the room for a seat at the table,” said Harts. “Lean In didn’t talk about race and it was written from a white-privileged women’s perspective for predominately other white women. One size doesn’t fit all.”
Black and Brown Women Still Vie for Equal Footing
For over three years, Harts has lead the charge to help women of color secure the seat while challenging companies to acknowledge their systemic racism and how that plays into career advancement opportunities. “Many black and brown women are still trying to earn equal pay, access to good education and healthcare,” she said. “There are so many barriers in place. Lean In once again affirms that it’s up to us to change societal norms. Black and brown women have always been leaning in, so, what do you do when you lean into a system that doesn’t recognize you? That is where we are now. For women of color to get ahead, it will require intentional solutions from our employers.”
Beyond highlighting problems, Harts is a solutions-driven career revolutionary who is using every possible platform to help women prepare for their seat at the table. Earlier this year, she endowed a scholarship at her undergraduate institution for first-generation women of color students and put it in her mother’s name to honor her. Along with her co-founder Lauren Broussard, she created The Memo, a career development platform that provides access to career boot camps, resources, and real-world career advice. She also hosts a weekly podcast called Secure “The Seat.”
To help drive real change within companies and organizations that want to invest in women of color, Harts recently created The Women of Color Equity Initiative. “I am tired of us consistently falling below 10% in most of those workplace statistics,” says Hart. “Hundreds of women of color want access to leadership opportunities and they’ve added their name to the WOC equity career-sourcing database. I’m also partnering with companies and organizations who want to intentionally hire women of color to fill open leadership roles.”
“Part of The WOC Equity Initiative is making sure a cultural shift takes place from the top down. This will require real systems change,” she continues. “This isn’t a ‘binder full of women,’ this is a partnership to create equity once they are hired and a roadmap to the C-suite. I don’t want a woman to get hired and she’s miserable because she’s the only one or dealing with microaggressions. We are too educated and experienced to let our expertise go dormant. I don’t want my sisters to lean out because companies won’t lean into them. We have worked too hard to lean out now.”