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'We can do it'

Intersectional strategies for women in the workplace

Anissia West will host “Women in Leadership: Deconstructed Glass,” a panel discussion on Dec. 14 at The Woody Guthrie Center.

Greg Bollinger

The important conversations are often the toughest to initiate. That’s why the folks behind Tri-City Collective’s Real Talk series have spent the back half of 2019 organizing free public panels with local leaders to help break the ice around some of the deepest and most complex challenges facing marginalized communities in Tulsa. 

Since the series’ June 15 debut, “Blacknificent!: Black, Queer & Okie,” the freewheeling social justice salons have helped spur community conversation around immigration, education, human rights and more. The latest installment, “Women in Leadership: Deconstructed Glass,”  takes place at The Woody Guthrie Center on Dec. 14. The panel will focus on the barriers that often keep women from positions of leadership, and the difficulties they face once they get there. 

Host Anissia West says she looks forward to getting to the bottom of these challenges and offering tools and strategies to help women overcome them. But when it comes to shattering the “glass ceiling,” West says the first step is bringing more people into the conversation.

“It’s one of those things that women tend to talk about among women, so oftentimes when we’re having these discussions, we’re not talking about those things with men,” she said. “Oftentimes, women are having those conversations in very homogeneous spaces, so women of color may not always have those conversations with women who are white.”

Outside of widening the scope of who women talk to about these issues, West sees immeasurable value in having a team of people who decide to overcome the barriers together and watch each other’s backs. 

“Sometimes in organizations that are male dominated, women may make this decision to work together to help elevate each other’s voices and also help elevate each other’s bodies of work,” she said. “For example, if I were working in a male-dominant organization … and I hear one man sharing another woman’s idea as if it is his, I will take it upon myself to speak up and let it be known that I’m aware that this is this other woman’s body of work or her idea.”

No stranger to workplace barriers, West has developed these strategies through her own experience. “For me, because I’m a woman of color—specifically an African American woman—my challenges are a little bit different than my white female counterparts,” she said. “I oftentimes find myself in situations where not only my gender, but also my race, is a factor in the barriers presented.” 

Panelist Rabbi Lillian Kowalski agrees about the importance of including women of color, and all women, in an intersectional form of feminism. “It’s about making a space equally accessible and available to all kinds of people,” she said. “I think the more that we talk about some of these issues here, the more we realize: If I, as a white cisgender woman, am facing some of these issues, how much more are other people who are not white or not cisgender … facing on a daily basis?”

Kowalski says they key to intersectional feminism is understanding that equality isn’t a finite resource. “It’s not about taking away something from somebody else. It’s about creating and maintaining equality,” she said. “You know, it’s not pie. When you give it away, you don’t you don’t lose something about it. It’s about making a space equal access.”

West is hopeful the Dec. 14 Real Talk panel will help generate productive conversations around how to build those equal-access spaces, but she harbors no illusions about the road ahead. “Those challenges never go away. You can break down some of those barriers, but all of those stereotypes never go away,” she said. “And I don’t expect for them to completely go away in my lifetime, but you just have to be mindful that there will be some people who think that you don’t belong in that [leadership] role. You know, and there may be some people who will try to work against you.

When I speak the exact same words that a male counterpart would say, or a white female counterpart would say … because I’m both female and black, the perception of me is much different,” West continued. “So I’ve struggled a bit with navigating how to show up as my true authentic self … and not just maintain the job but work my way up the ladder.”

Rabbi Kowalski—who was ordained in May before landing her new job at Temple Israel in July—is also learning how to show up as herself, for others, in a new community. “One of those, shall we say classic things that I’m known for saying is, ‘I don’t know’ is always an appropriate answer—as long as it’s followed by, ‘But I will find out.’” 

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Real Talk Women in Leadership: Deconstructed Glass 
Woody Guthrie Center, 102 E. Reconciliation Way 
Saturday, Dec. 14, 2 p.m. – Free 

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