MAY 3, 2022

Women Can Have Colonialist Thinking Too

I recently spoke with a Black female leader who joined a team of five White people.

One of her teammates, a White woman, wanted to understand how the Black woman could have gotten her role. She peppered her with questions about her education, experience, her rank in the company (which happened to be higher than the White woman’s), and other demeaning questions.

It didn’t stop there.

Anytime the Black woman made a decision, her other White female colleague challenged it. This quickly caught on and it wasn’t long before the rest of the team was using the same microaggressions tactics against the Black woman.

You can probably guess the rest. The Black woman started second-guessing her decisions, not speaking up, avoiding interactions, and working triple hard to prove herself. Ultimately she became exhausted, frustrated, stressed, and overwhelmed, and asked to be removed from the project.

Colonialist Thinking Can Happen In Women Too

In OAIB’s equity work, we have seen how women in power can sometimes take on behaviors more often associated with “dominant” White males, which perpetuates structures of White supremacy in subtle ways.

For example, we have observed women gaslighting other women. Interestingly, the place we see this behavior most often are in non-profit organizations where the majority of the leadership is White women.

Unconscious biases against People of Color stem from “colonist thinking,” the mindset that one group or culture is superior, even if this is not explicitly expressed.

What To Do If You’re Experiencing This

If you’re on the receiving end of microaggressions by women in leadership, there are steps you can take.

  1. First, address the person by “calling them in” (to educate them on the impact their words or behavior had on you), rather than “calling them out” (to shame or make them see they’re wrong)
  2. Seek out allies. They’re out there, and they are usually other White women.
  3. Share with HR or other allies your experience and the impact, define the desired outcome, and make a clear request.
  4. Speak up, and be willing to confront anyone perpetuating colonialist thinking.
  5. And be okay with discomfort. It’s not going to be an easy conversation, but you’re strong, and you have what it takes to help people awaken. Even if it’s not your job, sometimes, it takes a shock to correct bad behavior.

How To Be An Effective White Ally

If you’ve observed colonialist thinking in leadership, especially women you work with, or it’s been brought to your attention by a POC co-worker, you might be wondering what you can do.

The best first step is to give an ear. When you’re there to listen, it creates a safe space for sharing. Seek to understand before offering solutions or being understood.

Next, tap into your network, and seek out support and help from other managers, HR or DEIB practitioners. You’ll need help to navigate these conversations with peers and supervisors if you’re going to be a strong ally. (You have what it takes too!)

Do you need additional support to confront these issues in the workplace? Contact us to see how we can support your organization. .