On March 1, SaintA launched a new Affinity Group called Aspiring Women of Color (AWOC). The group is led by Child Welfare Supervisor Jovan Goodman and a core group, including Lilia Figueroa and Antoinette Davis, Child Welfare Supervisors; and Gina Branch, Youth Program Manager. Kenyatta Sinclair, Chief Equity and Human Capital Officer, was also instrumental in launching the group.
In her opening remarks, Goodman thanked SaintA leadership, the Equity Council and her AWOC sisters for helping launch the group. “As a little black girl from the eastside of Milwaukee, I had a lot to learn about professional development when I began my career,” she said. “And, I had to learn personal development, too, so I could truly believe in myself.”
Women Supporting Women
While her grandmothers, mother and aunts provided her with strength and direction growing up, Goodman said there were no women of color in her department when she started working in child welfare more than seven years ago.
Reflecting on her career thus far, and through her involvement with the SaintA Equity Council, Goodman could see how beneficial it would be to start a group for Aspiring Women of Color. “AWOC is a space that embodies leadership, professionalism, networking and creativity. It is a space where we can access mentors, coaches, and ambassadors,” she said.
Mentorship is Key
AWOC core group member, Lilia Figueroa shared her experience as a Latina professional. “I was fortunate enough to already have a mentor in child welfare when I came to SaintA,” said Figueroa. She and her mentor, Maria Andrade, have shared a close bond for several years. They had worked together previously and are both part of a strong local cohort of Latina social workers.
Penny Liddell, Family Services Supervisor, shared a little of her professional experiences. “I have had two promotions and made several transitions within case management and supervisory roles,” says Liddell. “You can always bring your questions or concerns to me and others who have been around a little while.” Liddell has nearly 20 years of experience working in child welfare, including almost nine at SaintA.
The group stresses that women who are not of color are also welcome to attend meetings and take part in the comradery and mentorship.
AWOC’s Mission and Purpose
The purpose of the group is to build capacity for women of color at SaintA who are emerging leaders. The March 1 launch date was symbolic, as it came just after Black History Month and just as Women’s History Month began.
“AWOC’s mission is to provide opportunities within SaintA by bringing women of color together to foster leadership and build personal and professional development,” said Goodman. “I think most of us in this room have faced professional barriers or been overlooked either because we are female, a minority, or both.”
AWOC is fashioned after Affinity Groups from the 1960s that helped reduce isolation of black employees as corporations became more integrated. By the 1990s, women, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, the LGBT community, veterans and the disabled, all began to organize and establish their own groups. Today, according to the Workforce Diversity Network, 90% of Fortune 500 companies have affinity groups, also sometimes called Employee and Business Resource Groups (EBRGs).
DiversityInc says there are many organizational and cultural reasons for Affinity Groups, including the business benefits of recruiting and retaining diverse staff. Talent development is another business benefit. “[Affinity] groups are among the best sources of finding leadership talent and nurturing it,” according to the DiversityInc website.
AWOC is the second Affinity Group SaintA has launched recently. The first was the LGBTQ Affinity Group, which is led by SaintA Case Manager Monika Walbergh and also overseen by Equity Council.
Being Bold, Intentional and Inspirational
SaintA CEO Ann Leinfelder Grove was not able to attend the AWOC launch, but provided a written letter of support. “One of my most important roles is to pave the way for emerging leaders to shine and advance in the organization as we fulfill our vision of helping every child and family thrive,” she wrote. “As you create the identity of your group, be bold, be intentional, and be trauma informed in all you do. I’m proud to see Aspiring Women of Color helping define the future of SaintA.”
The tone of the AWOC launch meeting was lighthearted with many of the organizers wearing t-shirts adorned with empowering messages and imagery. But there is serious work being done, too.
The group plans to tackle the subjects of implicit racial and gender biases, common microaggressions, and what women of color can do to lift each other up in the workplace and the community.
To all the women gathered that day, Goodman said, “This group is long overdue and it was created to ensure that we do not become the ‘Hidden Figures’ of the organization.”