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When they first met, Dr. Tina Opie, who identifies as a Black Christian woman, wasn’t sure she trusted Beth A. Livingston, a white atheist woman. But now, she says, she would trust Livingston with her life.
That’s because they followed the three practices at the heart of the book they would come to co-author: Shared Sisterhood: How to Take Collective Action for Racial and Gender Equity at Work.
These are practices, she says, that help redirect women from focusing on themselves as individuals – which Opie says tends to lead to disconnection and disappointment – and instead come together for the greater good.
And Opie argues: “We need collective action. We need widespread change. Women are underrepresented in the highest-paying positions and underpaid in general. It’s even worse when you look at the intersection of gender and race and ethnicity.”
“Some women may negotiate for themselves,” she adds. “But here is power in numbers. We are much more effective when a cadre of committed and invested sisters asks organizations, even demands that organizations uphold their commitment to equity.”
Here are the three practices:
- Dig into your assumptions about career success.
“Self-examination helps us slow down and pursue our career in a more mindful and meaningful manner,” says Opie. Ask yourself what career success means for you. How do your ideas, cultural values, and upbringing influence that answer? “It also helps us understand why individuals who focus on career advancement alone may be doing themselves harm.”
- Bridge the divide between women of all backgrounds through authentic relationships.
“When attempting to bridge the divide, we must recognize positions of power or marginalization,” says Opie. It’s also important not to rush this step. It can take time. Finally, Opie suggests focusing on the movable middle – the people who are neither friends nor foes but may be open to your attempts to bridge differences and create change.
- Advance all women across the organization and beyond.
“Once you bridge differences and create authentic connections,” says Opie, “you
can link arms and dismantle inequities–recognizing that when you help the most
marginalized, you help all of us.”
One way to do this is through tools of amplification. For example, suggests Opie: Before a meeting, one woman might go to two others and say she will suggest something in the meeting and ask the others to support it.
This, says Opie, will help the first woman’s idea be heard – and make it more likely that she will receive credit for it, which can lead to advancement.
“Imagine if women could stand up for each other that way,” Opie says. “We would be unstoppable.”
Dr. Tina Opie spoke at the 2022 California Conference for Women. This article is based on her talk.