Today’s Lenten biblical readings invited me to reflect on the #MeToo movement and think about the intersection of faith, leadership, and racial justice. A series of questions emerged through my contemplative process:
Q: How can America renew our strength, raise up, and resist becoming a ‘homestead of ruins’ [Isaiah 59: 9-12]?
Q: What role does racial justice have with gender equality?
Q: What does it mean if I apply and give a preferential option to the women who experience unreported and under-reported incidents of sexual assault, intimidation, and fear of dismissal in the workplace?
Q: As a person of faith, how am I actively seeking gender equality at my workplace?
Q: What should I do next?
Our current gender equality or gender equity issues ask the faithful to examine the hurt and affliction presented to us from the many reported examples of inappropriate workplace behaviors and inadequate policy. This has been happening for decades to our daughters, mothers, grandmothers, and aunts. Gender equality is an issue for the people of God to care deeply about. When we center the voices of women of color—across all other intersecting identities and/or expressions—we can begin to understand and tackle the most entrenched realities and injustice facing modern-day inequality.
Centering the voices of women of color is the most anti-oppressive, anti-racist gesture we can take to address gender equality. As we look at the #MeToo movement, I am reminded of the stories of the many women of color who have endured generations of unkind and ungodly interactions at their places of employment with little to no prospect of change in their situation.What happens to women of color in the workplace—whether it be mid-level professionals, C- suite executives, or entry-level or contract workers across industry and non-profits—is in light of how women of color have held the lowest societal positionality and thus endured and have accumulated hundreds of years of inequality in the U.S. workplace. Women in contracted industry roles who provide our cleaning, restaurant, and retail services, those who work in manufacturing factories and plants, or who are entrusted to care for our children and elders have faced some of the worse discrimination of all.
There is significant historical knowledge, cultural wisdom, and experiential wealth embedded within all women, of all races, religions, and creeds. Yet we know equality has been uneven from our beginnings. We know the history of our nation and the history of the American workforce. Whatever issues a white-identified executive woman is experiencing in her workplace environment (present or past), as difficult as they are, you can bet a black or Latin or Native American woman who does not present or appear white, in a similar context, has had and will continue to engage more challenges and hardships in proving her significance and worth. The dominant workplace environment requires that she (a woman of color) muster all she has to work through an entrenched and complicit status quo within our institutions. So, what now:
- We must be willing to use our power and platforms to provide a preferential option for racial justice by centering the voices of people of color, specifically women of color;
- We must be able to run interference and create pathways for women of color within our influence and reach to tell their stories and allow the knowledge and wisdom of their narratives to emerge;
- We must do better to contextualize gender equality and equity issues through a racial justice lens; and allow spaces in our work, schools, publications, media outlets, etc. for women of color to tell the truth and inform our present-day gender equality work.
As persons of faith, we should keep a razor focus on racial justice in society as we seek to remedy gender equality.
Dr. Mary J. Wardell-Ghirarduzzi is an academic and thought leader on race, leadership, and faith-informed social justice. She is the inaugural vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and full
professor of communication at University of the Pacific.