Recent studies show that women make up approximately 46.6% of the American workforce. Even though the workforce is nearly evenly split between genders, women are dramatically underrepresented in senior leadership positions. “Only one in four C-suite leaders is a woman, and only one in 20 is a woman of color” (McKinsey). This disparity points to systemic issues in corporate America that need to be addressed. That is why on March 24th, Interior Motions hosted “Empowering Women in the Workplace 2023,” an event intended to uplift and inspire working women. To help us do that, we invited keynote speaker, Kiwoba Allaire, to share her insights on how to best navigate the complexities of the workplace.
Kiwoba Allaire has had a long, successful career in the tech industry, and during her talk, she noted that she was often the only woman in the room and almost always the only woman of color in the room. While this presented many challenges and exposed her to many microaggressions in the workplace, she continued to make her way up the corporate ladder. It was only after a serious health scare that she decided to change the trajectory of her life. Her near-death experience with sepsis gave her a new outlook on life and catalyzed “Girl STEM Stars,” a nonprofit youth academy that Kiwoba started to promote literacy in STEM for girls of color. Through this powerful story, she emphasized the importance of resilience, courage, and viewing struggles as new opportunities.
Kiwoba’s second piece of advice for working women was to “stand your ground if coworkers try to silence you.” According to a 2014 study at George Washington University, “male colleagues interrupt 33 percent more often when they’re talking with women vs. men.” This statistic illuminates the struggle that many women face when trying to communicate at work: being interrupted, being ignored, and being excluded from the conversation. Kiwoba offered the simple strategy of interjecting with “excuse me, but I’m not finished talking.” No matter how you choose to respond, Kiwoba says it’s imperative to say something. Hold people accountable, call out negative behavior, and “teach people how to treat you.” That is how we ensure diverse perspectives in the workplace.
Another way to combat the exclusion/ silencing of women in corporate America is to find an ally that is willing to amplify your voice. This might look like having a conversation with a trusted colleague prior to an important meeting and asking them to speak out against any gender bias in the room. It is important to remember that there is strength in numbers and we can accomplish more when we work together.
In an economy where layoffs are happening left and right, taking credit for your own accomplishments may be the difference between employment and unemployment. In a study published by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers found that “women are unlikely to take credit for their role in group work in mixed-gender settings.” It is an unfortunate reality that unless a woman speaks up about her contributions, she will get overlooked for promotions and bonuses more often than her more vocal male counterparts. Kiwoba recommends that women keep track of all compliments, praises, or positive feedback from management in an ongoing spreadsheet to be referenced later.
Hopefully, these tips will help women advance their careers and establish a more equitable, diverse workplace for generations to come.
Also read: Women Who Shaped the Furniture Industry