By: Cailey Griffin
Preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, high school, college–is the way life usually goes.
For most people this education based life plan is all it takes to become successful, but for others there are a lot of stipulations. Many people of color, and other marginalized groups, in this country, face the longstanding presence of systemic oppression in the workforce. Systemic oppression in the workforce not only makes it challenging for people of color to even enter the professional field, but it also makes it challenging for them to feel comfortable and included in the professional field if they do make it.
Fighting structural and systemic oppression in the professional world is not something that will happen overnight, but there are action steps that can be taken. One organization FWD Collective is making an excellent and effective effort towards combating this issue. FWD Collective stands for “For Women and Diversity Collective”. Michael Donnelly is the Founder and CEO of FWD Collective. When asked about the mission of FWD Collective Donnelly says, “we’re a community dedicated to inclusion efforts so we highlight women, people of color, and underrepresented groups as the experts that we are rather than the boxes we check. We do that through our summits and panel discussions through our focus forward events. We serve as a resource for individuals as well as companies focused on their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives to really move the needle rather than just talk about it.” When asked about her inspiration for creating FWD Collective Donnelly says, “Understanding I’ve gone through some of these struggles of either finding a job, getting funding, or securing next level in my growth, my peers of color, or my peers who are underrepresented in other ways, probably had it the same or worse. So if I can use some of what I may have as privilege to help move that conversation and the skills that I have in creating communities, experiences, and events to move that conversation forward, then that was something that really spoke to my being, my purpose.”
Most people of color in this country, specifically Black and Latino Americans can only afford to raise their family in neighborhoods of a low socioeconomic status. Besides having to deal with challenges such as gang activity and gun violence, people living in these neighborhoods also have to deal with education systems that are failing. The poor performance of education systems in these neighborhoods is usually not occuring due to a lack of effort from the educators, but a lack of resources. Schools in low socioeconomic neighborhoods don’t have the luxury of being able to afford to pay teachers overtime to stay after school and tutor kids ,or purchase the latest version of textbooks, but they do the best they can.
Because of the conditions and lack of opportunities that people of color are faced with everyday, often times they aren’t even able to follow the education life plan and make it to college or even complete college at the same rate as their white counterparts. Even the people of color who are able to beat their circumstances and follow the education life plan, still struggle to “achieve success” by entering and sustaining a career in the professional workforce because of systems that have been in place forever such as structural and systemic racism.
FWD Collective’s efforts to combat systemic oppression in the workforce were seen in Chicago earlier this week. Tuesday, June 12th FWD Collective hosted their WorkFWD event at mHUB in Chicago. The evening kicked off with workshops hosted by Leasa and Carlo Navarro, Co-founders of Diversely, a platform working to help diverse individuals develop their skills and gain access to resources so that they can be employed at tech companies wanting to hire diverse employees. The first workshop was designed to give information to companies on how to prioritize diversity when recruiting and hiring prospective employers. The second workshop was designed to benefit job seekers and help better prepare them to attain a job in our current economy. After the workshops, there was time dedicated to networking, followed by a panel discussion. The panel was hosted by Donnelly and featured Elena Valentine from Skill Scout, Theresa Stewart from Colored LLC, Angela Solís Sullivan from Walgreens, Alida Miranda-Wolff from Ethos, Carlos Vale from Groupon and Leasa and Carlos Navarro from Diversely. The panelists were all industry professionals who identified as people of color, women or both. They discussed their experience functioning at professional organizations as someone included in an underrepresented group and provided the audience with information to attain a job or improve their company’s functioning as a more inclusive space.