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Navigating the Unique Career Challenges Facing Women of Color

Women of color careers

Published by WŌC, a nonprofit organization that celebrates, inspires and champions women of color in fundraising, philanthropy and related fields through building community and providing unparalleled personal and professional development resources. To find out more about WŌC, including access to their Resource Library and upcoming events, please visit their website here.

By Faith Montgomery, Lindauer Vice President, and Zena Lum, Lindauer Senior Advisor, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

As we grapple with the impact of health, economic and societal challenges that seem to grow exponentially, we should also recognize the enormous opportunities emerging. Without doubt, a strong non-profit sector will be key to recovery, reinforcing the resilience of communities and continuing to move our world forward. This article is for our sisters — women of color in fundraising and philanthropy — who are assessing their professional aspirations against this complex backdrop.

Many of us have heard the axiom, “women must work twice as hard as men to receive the same recognition.” Women of color are challenged even further, not only having to strive harder, but also having to achieve more than men and white women, to be seen and heard as valuable contributors in predominately white spaces. Throughout their careers, women of color have learned to navigate these complex spaces, while remaining true to themselves. You might ask, “What do I need to know to be successful in my own career?” We offer some guidance to help you navigate these unique workplace challenges.

Where Do You Want to Go?
Knowing your destination and charting your path are essential. Research is imperative. Can you identify growth opportunities within your current organization? If so, what might this path look like? Make sure you are well-positioned to develop skills and experience critical to that next level job and beyond. If an internal path is not available, which other organizations offer such potential? Finally, be sure to understand the culture of diversity and inclusiveness of the organizations you are targeting.

How Are You Wired?
Once potential paths are identified, make a self-assessment. Do you enjoy the challenge of a start-up or prefer contributing to the sustainability of an established mission? Do you prefer wearing many hats or specializing? As you conduct your research, ensure that your next role will align with your skills and experience, feed your passion and increase your proficiency.

How Will You Be Perceived?
Germane to your career considerations, and certainly to self-assessment, is the practice of code-switching. In the research text, Language and Interracial Communication in the United States: Speaking in Black and White, George B. Ray describes African-American code-switching as “a skill that holds benefits in relation to the way success is often measured in institutional and professional settings.” For many women of color, code-switching is a skillset that is integral to our perceived credibility, promotability and ultimate survival in the workplace. Knowing how and when to shift your demeanor and speech is critical to effectively engaging with others in an interview setting or thriving after landing the job. Perhaps, in the future, code-switching will not be essential to success; for now, mastery seems wise.

Are You Maximizing Your Network?
Women of color are often subjected to compromising stereotypes. Networking is essential to building a support system of allies and staving off those misconceptions. Navigating your career path will require support and encouragement from people who may not look like us, but who are enthusiastically willing to stand up for us. Collaboration is the secret sauce to creating allies that will boost your career, as it allows others to experience your work ethic, creativity and problem-solving ability. This insight into your skills enables allies to tout your talents to internal leadership and serve as references in a career transition. Use this data-proven approach to activate allies who can help open doors. “Outstanding You,” coupled with “Open-minded Them,” equals a stronger, diverse institution, outperforming homogeneous groups.

For women of color, navigating career and job choice is a complex task, compounded by “unspoken, but understood” rules. Systemic challenges present barriers to growth, and many organizations are not ready to see past their blind spots. For further reading, we recommend Race to Lead, an initiative of Building Movement Project, which provides a series of reports on the racial leadership gap in the non-profit sector, including an intersectional analysis of Women of Color in the Non-profit Sector.

Finally, we encourage you to boldly share your accomplishments and showcase your excellence during your job search and after securing your new position. Know your audience, and then, be courageous, confident and strategically brave enough to speak. For women of color, it will take all of this, as well as an organization’s commitment to disrupting bias in hiring or in internal promotion, to see the wonderful talent we bring and the assets we can be.

Faith Montgomery, Vice President, Lindauer

Faith Montgomery possesses deep experience and expertise in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, having held many senior-level roles prior to joining Lindauer in 2014. As Vice President of Development at Easter Seals Massachusetts, Faith was a key partner to the president and played an integral role in advancing strategic and governance initiatives. She oversaw every aspect of development including all major gift, annual fund, special event, corporation, and foundation activity; led frontline fundraising with leadership donors; and managed staff and Board relationships.

As Vice President of Client Services at Integral Resources, Inc., for-profit fundraising specialists for the nonprofit profession, Faith’s role included nonprofit client strategy; business development initiatives; directing marketing and communications; managing fundraising and annual giving initiatives for nonprofit partners; and executing a range of other responsibilities.

Faith also brings extensive organizational and operations expertise to Lindauer clients, with experience that included directing processes for a national hedge fund firm, creating public policies and procedures, integrating technology across corporate functions, studying organizational behavior, and conducting diversity training. She has done political fundraising, faith-based fundraising, and worked with such prominent think tanks as Resources for the Future.

Faith is well-versed in education, healthcare, and mission-driven nonprofits, having successfully completed major searches for Princeton University, Stanford University, Harvard University, Duke Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation, C.A.S.T., Society for Science and the Public and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She has placed leaders for renowned independent schools such as Buckingham Browne & Nichols, Hackley, National Cathedral School, and Perkins School for the Blind as well as multiple candidates at WGBH, PBS’s single largest producer; the Rheumatology Research Foundation; and Syracuse University. Faith also counts the University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas Health Science Center Houston, Louisiana State University, and Moffitt Cancer Center among her numerous successful placements.

Faith holds a B.A. in Communications/Business from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and an M.A. in Interpersonal Communications from Purdue University.

Zena Lum, Senior Advisor, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Lindauer

Zena Lum serves as Senior Advisor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Lindauer, having been a member of the Lindauer team for more than nine years. This role synthesizes her depth and breadth of knowledge of the nonprofit sector; her experience as a recruiter and fundraiser for mission-driven organizations; and her deep professional and personal networks. As Senior Advisor for DEI, Zena ensure that Lindauer sustains, enhances and continues to activate its leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion across nonprofit leadership and advancement. Building on Lindauer’s longstanding position as the nation’s #1 firm for advancement search, the firm is committed to leveraging its growth to influence hiring, retention and professional advancement of BIPOC individuals across broader segments of administrative and leadership roles.

A sought-after panelist and facilitator for her experience in the field, Zena has presented for African American Development Officers Network (AADO), AFP Massachusetts, CASE Multicultural Advancement Professionals, Grant Professionals Association – New England Chapter, Women in Development (WID), Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy (WŌC), and YW Boston. She co-chaired the inaugural Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee for WID Greater Boston, serves as an Advisory Committee member for WŌC, and is a LeadBoston Alumni Ambassador. She is an engaged member of her community, serving on the Development Committee for United South End Settlements and on the Executive Board for the Girls’ and Boston Latin Academy Association.

With more than 25 years dedicated to mission-driven organizations, Zena has directly raised tens of millions of dollars for leading organizations in Boston such as WGBH, Jumpstart for Young Children, and New England Aquarium. Prior to joining Lindauer, Zena served as the Director of Institutional Advancement for Boston Public Schools. As a recruiter, Zena has placed development leaders across the country and across the sector that have collectively raised hundreds of millions more to advance education, the arts, health care, and social and environmental justice. While mission is her “North Star,” successful navigation is predicated on her strengths in building genuine relationships and the ability to see connections and commonalities that lead to high-impact matchmaking, in fundraising, recruiting, and talent management.

Zena has a Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Georgetown University.

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