Black Lives Matter: The conversation continues

The dynamics of being a Black woman in the workplace

by Ciji Townsend

Black Lives Matter is more than a moment, it’s a movement. WICT Southeast is committed to ongoing conversations that generate awareness for Black women in our industry. Our recent panel discussion and interactive session, attended by more than 350 industry professionals, focused on the impact of the heightened race awakening on Black women in the telecommunications industry.

Ciji Townsend
Cox Communications

It’s been a few weeks since the panel discussion and member, Ciji Townsend has had time to digest the stories and information. In the post below, she shares her thoughts and perspective.

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Black women in the workplace need your empathy, not sympathy.

The conversation kicked off with a powerful response from Dawn Douglass, Vice President Programming at Bounce TV, “When you see a news story, you sympathize. When I see a news story, I see people that look like my loved ones.” Dawn immediately set the tone and struck a chord with me. It was in that moment, that I thought about the countless times that I’ve watched a news segment and immediately thought to myself that the incident being covered could include my brother, cousin, husband or even me. Yet, when I arrived at work, the same new story was simply just a story discussed briefly at the water cooler. It’s in those moments that empathy is needed to break down the walls of understanding that accompany the cycle of systemic racism. 

Code-switching is real for Black women in the workplace.

After a brief explanation of code-switching, moderator Kenya Brock, Director of Digital Operations and Marketing at Katz Networks/E.W. Scripps, asked panelists to share a time they had to code-switch at work. “I’ve been doing it my whole life,” exclaimed Andrea Bibbs, Senior Director, Diversity & Inclusion Strategy at WarnerMedia News & Media. And I could sense the head nods from the other black women in the audience. Our experiences of worrying more about our hairstyles, tone of voice, posture and good manners in the workplace have an uncanny resemblance. Even worse than the worry, we all know that the time and effort put into code-switching can affect our performance and productivity.

But where do we start? Who carries the responsibility for change? 

It was mentioned by the panelist that change starts with leadership. And I couldn’t agree more. But I don’t think that change starts and stops with a company’s hierarchy. Change starts with everyone the minute that they are made aware. My hope would be that each of the attendees that were not familiar with the challenges that black women face in the workplace would take the newfound information and adjust their behavior and way of thinking. 

And just to be clear, Black women aren’t asking for a handout. 

What I loved most about the conversation rooted in “invisible work,” is the reminder that Black women work hard, many Black women work longer and harder than most of their peers. So, a handout is not the answer. The ask is that where credit is due, it’s appropriately applied. So many Black women are completing stretch projects and added tasks with ease and often don’t receive credit. Sonya King, Founder and CEO of Creator’s Architect said it best, “We’re given the work because we can do it, not because we should do it.”

Much of injustice stems from access to privilege

In the second half of the event, Sonya provided data for a deeper dive on the impact of privilege. She touched on access, education, earning power, mortality and home ownership. Seeing data explaining the path of privilege was beyond eye opening. Access to education leads to higher earning power which leads to easier access to home ownership. And learning that Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police was shocking but perhaps not a surprise.

#Sayhername

Dana Dawson, Lead Project Manager at Cox Enterprises, ended the presentation highlighting the countless women who have been killed by police, many names people hadn’t heard of. It was sad, painful and continues to be our reality.

Stay tuned and stay engaged

It’s clear this discussion was insightful, meaningful and needed for our WICT Southeast members and advocates. And we’re not stopping the conversation. Stay tuned for how we’ll keep the momentum going and for how you can be part of it.

We want to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment letting us know the most impactful part of the presentation for you.

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Ciji Townsend is a Pure Barre enthusiast, book club fanatic and the host of the being BALANCED podcast. When she’s not sharing her perspective with WICT SE members, she keeps her plate full as a Senior Manager of Internal Communications at Cox Communications.

I’m a black woman working in the telecommunications industry and I have questions.

By Ciji Townsend

I’m a black woman. And because I’m a black woman, unfortunately the recent senseless acts fueled by systemic racism isn’t new to me. But the collective response that extends outside of my community and spills over into the streets via protests and rallies in all 50 states and 14 countries is quite different than what I’ve experienced in my lifetime.

Ciji Townsend, Senior Manager, Internal Communications, Cox Communications

Even with all of the attention and heightened concern, I still have questions. What happens next? What’s the long-term plan? And, specifically what’s the role of my colleagues in the telecommunications and cable industry? 

By now you’ve probably heard that you need to listen to black voices.

Let’s take it one step further and both listen and learn. Now is the time to increase your network beyond the one black team member that you call on when you have a question. Listen to multiple voices, invite new people to the conversation that wouldn’t normally have a seat at the table. And let’s give ourselves permission to be ok with both formal and informal listening sessions. Now on to the learning. Listening isn’t enough. Be intentional about learning what you don’t know and re-learning what you think you already know. In our industry we are vital to the information that is consumed by the masses. Before we make major decisions, we need to listen and learn to better understand the cause and effect of systemic racism.

Everyone is watching. 

Speaking of content, all eyes are glued to their screens right now. In the past few months because of the disruption caused by COVID-19, families are at home and the consumption of television shows, movies and documentaries is at an all-time high. How can we be better stewards of diversifying that content? Let’s be honest, technology has turned black voices into the biggest media company in the world. Is your company paying attention? Are you amplifying black stories and movies that have black lead actors beyond black history month?

Pace yourself for the long-haul.

Yes, the outcry is loud right now. And we all know that it will only take one major news story for the momentum to dwindle. So, what commitment will we make now, as voices in our industry to ensure that the work done today continues to show up tomorrow?

There are many questions that have yet to be answered. And our industry is perfectly positioned to encourage the continuation of race-based conversations and to even provide a stage not only for awareness but also change. 

What are your thoughts? What can our industry do to spark change and keep the conversation and momentum going? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

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As an organization whose mission is based on equality, WICT is committed to diversity and inclusion in all aspects of life. We stand firm with our partners and the communities we serve to eradicate systemic racism like that we witnessed with George Floyd and many others. WICT stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. In addition, we will address the civil unrest during all of our programs for the foreseeable future. We will never stop using our platform to shine a spotlight on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. All of us wish for peace and wellness for all of our brothers and sisters in our extended community.

Our hope is that together, we will rise above and emerge more united than ever before. Be well, stay strong.