Tearing Down Tokenism—Together: A SHE TALKS Recap

Photo by Illyana Bocanegra

Photo by Illyana Bocanegra

Produced by #bossbabesATX, SHE TALKS is an ongoing discussion-based personal and professional development series, tackling topics from finances to intersectional feminism. Our SHE TALKS feature the perspectives of women and non-binary folks. All genders are welcome to attend.

In this session, we gathered experts and community members invested in diversity and inclusion to discuss the lack of representation for women of color and identify solutions and strategies for creating inclusive spaces. How can we—as community members, as women who work in various industries—prioritize and uplift diverse voices? What’s the hold up?


Sheena Moore, the moderator
Sheena is a Recruiting Coordinator for a major tech company. She has been featured as a BossBabe Local Gem for her entrepreneurial work with Sheena's Pickles. Sheena has also been a part of a number of #bbatx events. This includes 40 Things Women Can Do to Get Ahead in Work and Ventures, an event held in collaboration with the Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization (MSTC) program at The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. This event inspired Sheena to apply for the MSTC program, which she completed, earning her degree in 2017. Having lived in Austin for over 14 years Sheena has worked for various non-profits, including AmeriCorps Corporation for National and Community Service as well as Humanities Texas, which is the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Sheena strongly believes that diversity and inclusion are essential to the success of any community or organization and hopes that continued dialogue will highlight the invaluable contributions of women from all backgrounds.

Nefertitti Jackmon, a panelist
Nefertitti Jackmon is the Executive Director of Six Square, Austin’s African American Cultural District. With more than a 20-year career in operations, program management and consulting in the nonprofit sector, Nefertitti has worked primarily with community-based organizations to cultivate, preserve and promote African-American culture. As a student of African-American studies, she understands the vital importance of building institutions that value and celebrate the African-American aesthetic.

Raquel Peña, a panelist
Owner and operator of Merch Gal, Raquel Peña has worked in the music industry since 2000 beginning in radio. Raquel continues to work in all facets of the industry, including event production management, tour merchandising, and tour management. She is also a member of Chulita Vinyl Club’s Austin chapter.

Monique Parker, a panelist
Monique Parker has worked for some of Austin’s largest tech companies, including Indeed and Dropbox. In her roles at both companies, Parker was dedicated to solutions and strategies around improving diversity and inclusion. 

Aimy Steadman, a panelist
Aimy is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer for BeatBox Beverages. She is a double-Longhorn, earning both her B.S. in Advertising and M.B.A. at the University of Texas at Austin. Aimy co-founded BeatBox while pursuing her MBA in entrepreneurship. Her past experience includes working in online marketing at agencies and in-house at the Central TX Food Bank, running her own online marketing agency, and helping run the UT-based start-up incubator Texas Venture Labs.

Here are some takeaways and information to explore based on the night's conversation and the panelists' recommendations:

1.) We launched into the conversation with a little context on how this all began. This conversation is not a one-off; it's reflective of many community discussions and discriminations witnessed by #bossbabesATX throughout the organization's history. For example, Sheena (the night's moderator) came onto this event after working with some of our community members to challenge a 10-person panel on entrepreneurship (with a 2000-person audience) that claimed diversity, but showcased all-white women speakers. 

2.) We then began to discuss the panelists' individual experiences and relationships to discrimination at work.  Our panelists each noted that exclusive and discriminatory environments typically grow out of a combination of factors: lack of diversity initiatives in the recruitment process, inappropriate feedback loops at work to talk about racial dynamics and tension, unchecked unconscious bias, nepotism and favoritism and our straight-up, collective fear to stand up and address these things in professional environments.

3.) We then talked about navigating negative stereotypes. What do you do when you need the money, don't feel valued at work, but want to stay? Panelist Raquel Peña said, "You don't need that treatment. You don't need that money." Panelist Monique Parker said that if you truly want to stay, fight back in a professional way; approach the conversation with your ducks in a row and don't let someone dismiss you because they're buying into respectability politics. Panelist Nefertitti said that no matter what you do, you should remember that being angry about feeling excluded and discriminated against on the basis of race is OK; don't fault yourself for being emotional. Panelist Aimy Steadman shared that she uses her own bias toward supporting marginalized communities to counter stereotypes in the room. She is not afraid to stand up to clients and employees when necessary, and she calls upon her leadership team to join her.

4.) From here, we moved into discussing allyship. How can we help each other? What can women with more privilege (specifically white women) do to create and cultivate positive, more inclusive working environments? The panelists had a few suggestions:

  • Commit to fight on behalf of others' and their needs. Do not co-opt a marginalized group's movement and assume you know what the desired outcome is.
  • Broaden your community. Becoming friends with more diverse groups of people will help you empathize in the workplace and notice when a co-worker or colleague is not being treated correctly.
  • Don't be ambiguous about your allyship. Do the work, do your research and show up educated to help women who need it. Women of color do not need to teach you the history of oppression in order for you to step up.
  • Be consistent. You can't pick and choose when to be an ally. If you are an ally, you will need to be there when women of color call on you to help.
  • When someone is angry and reacting emotionally to discrimination or exclusion at work, don't hold them to unacceptable standards of respectability. Do the work to understand what they are trying to communicate. Do the work to understand why someone may be upset and address the problem—not the delivery of a reaction.

5.) The panelists then explored how women of color can support one another. Here were some of their suggestions:

  • Don't fall into competition with fellow people of color at work. Start affinity groups, talk with people who share your experiences and lend your time toward creating a dialogue around diversity and inclusion when you can.
  • Reach out to fellow women of color (especially those you may be able to help) and make yourself available. Keep your door open.
  • Be clear and communicate what and who you're here for, especially if you're in a space of leadership. Setting the tone will help other women of color feel safe and comfortable to express their opinions, apply for leadership positions and succeed.
  • Continue to show up.

6.) The panelists then shared strategies for self-care (everything from taking time to be alone to therapy to investing in positive friendships) and fielded questions from the audience. 

Here are a few action items FROM THE DISCUSSION:

1.) Take our diversity and inclusion survey. Our research team is collecting data from a survey to better frame our next SHE TALKS on July 24 and show people that exclusion is not a feeling—it's real and can be measured. Join us in the process and submit your own thoughts here.

2.) There has already been some lively social media discussion from this talk.  During audience Q&A, committee member Alex Perez-Puelles brought up a recently publicized document that had been internally distributed by The Domain's. It strategically excluded women of color (and perpetuated all sorts of weird stereotypes, but that's neither here nor there) as part of its ideal customer profile. We then posted our take on Instagram the following morning. The aftermath that followed was interesting; many people agreed with our take, some didn't, and their reasoning ranged from "fake news" to reinforcing that this kind of racial stereotyping is normal. You can read all of the conversation and commentary here. PS: We will continue doing social experiments like these to push the envelope forward and advocate for diversity and inclusion in Austin; you can keep up with those on our Instagram and email list.

3.) Attend the next SHE TALKS in this series! In our next session on July 24, #bbatx programming committee member Keisha Gillis will be joined by a panel of community members to discuss racial representation, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The talk will address concerns brought up in our Diversity and Inclusion Survey, as well as our first event in this summer series, SHE TALKS: Tearing Down Tokenism. Together, we hope to create a learning environment—one that sincerely teaches us all how to support one another.

4.) Do the work!


About #bossbabesATX: #bossbabesATX (#bbatx) is an online and offline space for women-identifying and nonbinary creatives, entrepreneurs and community organizers. Through our event series, showcases, strategic collaborations and professional development programs, we build educated, empowered and more equal creative communities. Within the last year, we've provided a platform of visibility, outreach and financial opportunity to 900+ Texas-based women artists and women-owned businesses and nonprofits. Learn more at bossbabes.org

Our events prioritize the voices of self-identifying women and nonbinary folks. We are not gender-discriminant; all are welcome to attend. This production has been made possible in part by presenting partners Resplendent Hospitality.