Cultivating Economic Shifts through Centering Black Women Best
By: Fanta Traore
In 2020 and 2021, the death of George Floyd — may he rest in eternal peace — caused a corporate racial reckoning. Leaders of businesses large and small proclaimed their commitments to making a serious change to address systemic racism and oppression. In aggregate, 49.5 billion dollars were committed by America’s largest companies toward racial justice.
But this resource reallocation still leaves much to be desired. What use are commitments without accountability? What progress has actually been made?
As 2021 ended, Black women’s unemployment rate continued to skyrocket, something not reflected in low aggregate unemployment numbers. This disparity points to the need for specific solutions which will improve our broken economic system, one where soaring stock prices can mask the reality of the economic struggle that many face, and where the myth of meritocracy prevails. Measures of the economy that fail to take into account dimensions like race and gender will never improve outcomes for all.
We need a lens like Black Women Best. Coined by Janelle Jones, now Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, the term encapsulates why it’s critical to center the needs of Black women to ensure the economy is working for everyone: a policy that uplifts Black women, the thinking goes, will uplift everyone.
This idea guides the ethos of the Sadie Collective, a nonprofit I co-founded to support young Black women interested in economics and its related fields — finance, data science, policy. Daily, I collaborate with talented current and aspiring economists of color who use data to tell powerful stories and create accountability.
When we saw the commitments and statements companies made toward racial justice last year, we were glad — but couldn’t help but be skeptical.
In our discussions, the following questions have risen to the forefront:
Which initiatives should we trust, and why? Our answer: those that have Black people at the helm and steering the effort — whether through their internal leadership, or tapping Black experts from the outside.
How are these companies and organizations measuring their progress and commitments? Public acknowledgment and accountability, both externally and internally, is paramount. While this is a new journey for many institutions to embark on, listening to Black women from relevant communities will be key.
Yet we’ve also come across questions that I don’t have the answer to:
What does accountability and substantial change look like for organizations and companies that are only now addressing what for centuries have been obvious to marginalized populations?
How willing are the companies to do the hard work necessary to ensure that racial equity is embedded throughout the organization?
I don’t know the answers to these questions — but I know that they’ll come through listening to other Black women pushing for accountability, change, and progress.
This Black History Month will mark the Sadie Collective’s fourth annual conference, where Black women from across sectors will discuss how they are creating accountability in their domains.
We will hear from speakers like Hope Wollensack, who has introduced a Guaranteed Income project for Black women in Georgia; Gizelle Rodriguez Smith, from Goldman Sachs Investment Research — one of the key leaders of Goldman’s One Million Black Women Initiative; Dr. Kristen Broady from the Brookings Institution, whose perspective on race and the future of work is shaped by her experiences as a triple HBCU graduate; and Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, co-founder of Transparency International and former Minister of Education in Nigeria, who has cultivated accountability in her work across the developing world.
Just making promises isn’t enough. Companies must hold themselves accountable, listening to their Black employees and customers, and Black women experts from around the world who are driving accountability in their own fields.
If you’re looking to learn about what accountability looks like and support your Black women and women of color colleagues, this conference is for you.
If you’re looking to hear from fellow Black women about what they’re doing to hold their institutions accountable, this conference is for you.