In California, programs employ a young, diverse, mostly women workforce—over 60% millennials, over 70% people of color, and more than 60% women. Similar to the early child care field, the women of color caring for our youth deserve to be recognized and valued for their work.
Millennial women today are 37% more likely than GenXers to live below the poverty line. Almost 44% of millennials are women of color and face even harsher realities. Racial and gender biases create barriers to advancement in the nonprofit field. They are passed up for jobs or promotions despite comparable or higher credentials, are paid less than men of color and white men, and more frequently report frustrations with inadequate salaries.
It is imperative that the afterschool field examine the impact of race and gender on the aspirations, experiences, and career advancement of women of color. This intersectional approach can help guide policy development, identify strategic investments, and grow programs supporting the economic stability and success of women of color in the workforce. In particular, mentoring, coaching, and peer support programs can be an effective strategy to ensure millennial women of color are equipped to lead and thrive in their work with youth.
A Model to Advance Women and Girls of Color
Sisters Inspiring Change (SIC) was launched in 2014 to interrupt barriers for women and girls of color to grow, develop, and realize their full potential professionally and personally in the afterschool field. Based on mentorship best practices, tied to existing leadership initiatives, and grounded in lived experience, Sisters Inspiring Change designed a unique, yet scalable cohort-based leadership development and mentoring model in four California communities.
Through virtual and in-person sessions, the project focused on developing the confidence and skills of emerging women of color leaders while fostering a space for them to share candid and relatable experiences of the challenges and opportunities of being a woman of color in the afterschool field. Discussions ranged from professional to personal: continuous self-improvement, goal setting, communication, decision-making, leadership development, career advancement, and social capital. Throughout and after the project, participants—"Sisters"—took on positions of higher leadership and responsibility; asked for and received performance evaluations and raises; initiated programs for girls, advocated on behalf of their staff; held courageous conversations; and created opportunities for other women of color staff and colleagues.
Safe, trusting spaces allow for women of color to show up fully. Sisters described how the unique community "allowed for women to discuss hardships, gender issues and equality without feeling judged." Women of color in nonprofits nationwide describe landscapes within their organizations that undermine their contributions and experiences. Sisters "puts forward the needs of women of color without needing to justify doing so."
Peer support and mentoring is powerful. Compared to men of color and white men and women, women of color are less likely to receive on-the-job mentoring from within their organizations, and more likely to receive it externally. SIC recognizes the opportunity for women of color to be each other's support system and advocates. One Sister describes the relationships built as "a guiding light through adverse moments and uncertainty." Another says, "women succeed when we have the resources and support system to do so."
Youth-serving organizations can be a force for change. Afterschool programs have a unique opportunity to simultaneously inspire a new generation of young women while lifting up women of color from frontline to head of the table. One Sister explains that "as women of color rise to higher leadership positions, young people will be able to connect with women that look like them and believe it's possible for them to lead."
Call to Action
Peer-support affinity groups such as Sisters Informing Change need to exist in concert with broader organizational change. Afterschool programs must commit to addressing internal biases, paying women fairly, creating transparency around pay scales to expose discrimination, and in-organization mentoring by supervisors and other senior staff. Funders must invest in organizations and initiatives led by women of color. As one Sister describes, when women of color are provided with opportunities to thrive, "the ripple effect and direct impact on young people is inevitable."
Written by Aleah Rosario, Foundation for California Community Colleges. Contributors: Gabriela Delgadillo, Saving Our Starfish; Elvy Pacheco, Beyond the Bell Branch –Los Angeles Unified School District; Julie Sesser, Santa Clara County Office of Education.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of AfterSchool Today.