Women of colour - it’s a term coined at the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston where Native American, Latino, Asian and Pacific Island women asked to join the Black Women’s agenda, which was to be presented at the conference. As a woman of colour myself, I’ve often felt there have been additional barriers I’ve encountered in my career to date in the male-dominated industries of insurance, infrastructure and venture capital.
Usually, this is as a result of systems and structures and unsaid “norms” or expectations, from the more benign, such as water cooler chat being centred on Australian sport or “after-work drinks” at the local pub, to the more domineering, such as the fact that 94 per cent of CEO roles on the ASX300 are held by men.
Whilst addressing and influencing systemic issues may feel beyond us, we can control and influence what and how we do things to put ourselves in the best position.
Here are three areas you can focus on and master:
Build a solid network of advocates and allies
Ask for introductions, you can start with your immediate network no matter how small that is and then as you meet more people ask to be introduced to someone else in their network to slowly expand. It’s important to have a targeted reason to connect. For example, a specific piece of advice you’re seeking and/or sharing something you’re working on or have found that may help them in their line of work. It’s about opening the door for a conversation for an exchange of ideas and knowledge.
Having a network is an important way to build your reputation and finding mentors/allies who will advocate for you. Growing your network is also a helpful way to find the future people you want to work and align with.
Obtaining tangible and relevant experience
Not having the “right experience” is a phrase that likes to be thrown around…sometimes as a means to gatekeep. Building up your portfolio of experience to minimise or counter this kind of argument is the most direct way to tackle this.
There are a variety of ways to approach this. Not exhaustive but alternative ways may be to:
Put your hand up (at your place of work) for a project in an area you want to learn more about
Working on a side hustle relevant to the area you’re interested in
Volunteering for a not-for-profit organisation in this area you’d like to upskill in
Enhancing your domain expertise by demonstrating your skills and knowledge
It’s important not to get caught up in feeling like you continually must study or have ALL the qualifications in order to progress or have an opinion. This can absolutely be done in parallel and often it’s important to question how imperative it is for your future and what direction you want to go in. Delineate between what is a must have and nice to have qualification wise.
There are also other ways to get up to speed, whether that’s books, podcasts and short courses but nothing beats putting theory into practice! Build a portfolio of your expertise that can be sharable - can you write some content, be featured on panels, interviewed for podcasts or articles? Putting yourself out there may also help to accelerate your learning journey in the areas you want to be an expert in!