Paying it Forward, But for Whom?

In my senior year of college, I knew I wanted to work in the women’s rights movement after graduation, but like every other almost-grad that wasn’t in finance, it was a struggle to get interviews. I started reaching out to anyone and everyone I knew who might give me advice or, less likely, offer me a job. Many women did give me advice — some who had long been mentors and others whom I simply cold-called. And ultimately, I landed the dream job. That’s why, over the past four years in the career I love, I’ve been committed to paying it forward for younger folks. If someone reaches out to me for career advice, I never say no. What I’ve come to realize is that in doing so, I’ve been perpetuating racial inequality.

Recently, a woman reached out to me via LinkedIn to ask for advice breaking into the reproductive health world. I’ve never met her, but I gladly agreed to chat with her. And it finally struck me: like her, the women who reach out to me for advice are always white. I count myself fortunate to have talked to many of these smart, inspiring, and motivated young white women over the years. But I also want the smart, inspiring, and motivated young people of color who are already in this movement or who want to be to get the support they deserve.

In theory, I understand the systemic ways that white people are hired and promoted more frequently than people of color. But in practice, white people like me often don’t see the ways we unintentionally perpetuate inequality. We encourage people within our communities, which are mostly white, to seek jobs and opportunities without realizing that we’re leaving people of color behind. The fact that I’m surrounded by predominately white communities, both personally and professionally, is both a symptom and a cause of racism. If I’m only supporting the white women who reach out to me for career advice, I’m part of the problem.

I write this not for an ally cookie, but to hold myself accountable to helping break down barriers that prevent young women of color from joining and advancing within the reproductive rights movement. I’m going to do more to support organizations such as The City School that work to empower young leaders and people of color. And I’ll do better at reflecting on my own actions that perpetuate racism.

I also call on other white people to do the same — reflect and act. Just because you don’t realize it doesn’t mean you’re not part of the problem.

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