Sistas Under Siege

A few of the Black women under scrutiny in the national spotlight (clockwise from top left): Fulton County, Ga., DA Fani Willis; NY Attorney General Letitia James; former Harvard President Dr. Claudine Gay; Vice President Kamala Harris.

“They are coming for us.”  Let’s talk about it.

From the editors of Black Women Unmuted and Fierce for Black 

Over the past few months, it seems every news cycle has carried story after story of attacks on the expertise, professionalism and character of Black women who occupy positions of power.  

Naturally, we decided we must talk about this. So we joined forces with our friends at Fierce for Black Women to host Sistas Under Siege, a panel discussion by sister experts from the legal, political and mental health communities because after all, who better to discuss what’s happening to us, than us?

Our panelists — Aisha Braveboy, Prince George’s County, Md., State’s Attorney, Glynda Carr, president of Higher Heights for America political action committee, and Karsonya “Dr. Kaye” Wise Whitehead, founder of The Karson Institute for Race, Peace, & Social Justice – delve into the reasons behind the apparent backlash against Black women and what we can do to protect our own well-being and the careers that so many of us have worked hard to build. 

“Sistas Under Siege” panelists (clockwise from top right) Glynda Carr, Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead and Aisha Braveboy discuss the current backlash against Black women with Black Women Unmuted editor Sonya Ross. (Black Women Unmuted via YouTube)

It’s no accident that these events are happening now. We are living in a time where racial tension is pervasive and intense yet Black women are rising, and thriving. In education, for example, these stats from The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education back that up:

Among Black students completing degrees in higher education, Black women earned more than 60 percent of doctoral degrees, 70% of master’s degrees and 66% of bachelor’s degrees at the 30 highest-ranking universities in the U.S. 

High visibility has resulted in Black women coming under attack at all levels, but especially in the center of power in corporate America, academia and all three branches of the U.S. government: 

With so many incidents happening at once, it’s no wonder why many Black women could relate to this viral moment, when Fulton DA Willis vigorously defended her reputation during a recent hearing in the election interference trial that she is prosecuting.

Despite such attacks, Black women continue to gain ground. Consider where we stand in business, including America’s C-suites:

  • As of the year ending April 30, 2022, 46 of the 395 new directors named to America’s corporate boards, or 12%, were Black women, up from 2% in 2008. 
  • The number of businesses owned by Black women grew 50% from 2014 to 2019.

So even though we make our voices heard, even though we are Fierce, it is also clear that being Fierce takes a personal toll, particularly in the workplace.  

A recent study by McKinsey reported that we receive less support and more challenges in the workplace than other groups: 

  • 20%of Black women leaders experienced “having someone say or imply that you’re not qualified” compared to 12% for all women and 6% for all men.
  • 38% of Black women leaders experienced “being mistaken for someone at a lower level” compared to 26% for all women and 13% for all men.
  • 55% of Black women leaders experienced “having your judgment questioned” compared to 39% for all women and 28% for all men.
  • “Black women also ranked dead last in their experience of manager support — managers showing interest in their career, checking in on their well-being and promoting inclusion — as compared to other identity groups. Similarly, Black women ranked near last in experiencing sponsorship and allyship as well as psychological safety,” according to a recent article in Forbes.

What does all of this mean when it comes to staying whole and healthy? Our panelists offer their best advice, and we are sharing links to these resources for how Black women can continue to thrive. 

  • Know when it’s time to get help: New research from the NYU School of Nursing found that the symptoms of depression in Black women may be different from the traditional symptoms you or your health care provider may consider. When depressed, we are more likely to be self-critical and blame ourselves for how we feel, and experience somatic symptoms (such as fatigue, insomnia, decreased libido and an inability to experience pleasure). 
  • Create your version of a softer life: Let go of the strong Black women narrative, and learn how to protect your mental health. No matter your season of life, embrace a gentler way of living, centered on loving yourself. 


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