Diversity within Gender

February 10, 2022by Carina furlong0

It is safe to say that 2020 is a year of many challenges and defining moments. Not only have we taken time to reflect and debate on Covid 19, but now we are also faced with a theme that is as old as humankind itself: Racism.

We, as Presidents of a global NGO that strives for gender balance in leadership, want to take a moment to reflect on this critical topic. You might have noticed that each of us are from different ethnic backgrounds? And this is precisely why we would like to bring our perspectives to this delicate topic.

PWN Global is an inclusive community that welcomes men and women from any and all backgrounds. Our primary focus is to accelerate gender balanced leadership in business and society. What we have never really addressed is the fact that women with a different skin colour or cultural background may face additional challenges in terms of career development and opportunity. We would like to share with you both of our perspectives on this matter.


In the (social) media, you often come across organisations that pride themselves on being diverse and inclusive. If you take a closer look, you will see teams composed of only white women, or a mixture of white men and women. In both instances, I question their claim to be ‘diverse’. For me, diversity goes beyond gender.

From a professional point of view, it is hard to find women of colour in leadership positions. I know they are there, just not very visible and extremely under-represented in the female leadership space. According to a HBR report, women of colour represent 4% of c-level positions falling far below white men (68%) and white women (19%).

Another study (HBR) found that women of colour are most likely to experience workplace harassment amongst all groups. They are often held to a much higher standard than their white and male peers and presumed to be less qualified despite their credentials, work product or business results. Perhaps even more alarming, they receive less support from their managers, according to the same McKinsey and Leanin.org study. They are less likely to have bosses who promote their work contributions to others, help them navigate organisational politics, or socialise with them outside of work. Thus, they’re often left out of the informal networks that propel most high-potentials forward in their careers. They lack the kind of meaningful mentoring and sponsorship that is critical for getting ahead.

As a woman of colour, I am stereotyped in many ways and judged on my appearance. I have been seen as the nanny (of my children), the assistant or the intern of my peers. Also, have I been complimented on my ability to speak fluent Dutch (Dutch is my mother tongue) and criticised because I do not cook nor like spices and peppers. I have been called a savage, and a tropical surprise and people seem to be quite astonished when they find out that I am an engineer in the technology industry. The latter rightly, because in general, women in technology are under-represented.

So, what’s new? Nothing. But, it is essential to mention that both men AND women stereotype one another: judge/discriminate and make assumptions based on appearance.

The message to men and women, do not call yourself diverse and inclusive because you checked the gender box. How inclusive are you regarding other ethnicities, skin colours and cultural backgrounds across and within your gender? You will be surprised.

I always believed, as a person of colour, hard work and integrity would take me to the top. We all know that this is partly the strategy. In my current job, thanks to the support of my manager and the leadership of the organisation, I got the opportunity to step up. But it is not a given, and I have to work maybe even harder to receive the same acknowledgement as my white male peers.

So yes, it is possible. And I choose to believe that the majority of people in leadership positions are willing to welcome women and women of colour into the leadership ranks of their organisations. The question is, how can we make it happen?

I believe that the current discussions on racism will contribute to that.


As I reflect over the past couple of weeks, l know we are at a pivotal point in our global history. I am an observer at heart and, as I observed events unfolding, I found it very difficult to ‘bear witness’ to what was happening by asking myself really uncomfortable questions.

Sheila and I have had multiple conversations and, on hearing about her experiences, I found myself reflecting deeply into my own sense of ‘white privilege’. The exact origin of the term ‘white privilege’ is unclear, but is believed to have been brought into the public domain by Peggy McIntosh in 1988 when she wrote a paper called “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies.” She explains ‘white privilege’ as the gifts and benefits she has been given based only on the colour of her skin, and not earned through any accomplishments. I also found Michael Kimmels TED talk hit the mark for me – especially the first five minutes which are powerful and include a key message that privilege is invisible to those who have it. https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_kimmel_why_gender_equality_is_good_for_everyone_men_included .

I have read, listened, and watched a vast amount of material recently that has fuelled my desire to be part of the change needed. Change begins with ‘I’. Change begins with education and understanding. The way I see the world has changed. My perspectives have widened and taking time to be still, reflect and question everything has been a challenge. It is a challenge I will continue to invest in as it supports my growth as a person and my ability to support the growth of gender balanced leadership in our organisation for all women.

We, as Presidents, colleagues and friends, realise that it is dangerous to make any assumptions in this area. We learn from each other’s experience. Based on the difference in our backgrounds and, perhaps, the sentiments we feel, it is important for us both to address this topic to understand how we can better contribute to strengthening opportunities for all women. This is an emotional topic and a great opportunity to have an honest look at your own biases. These are natural to you but, in the light of this global situation, may be worth a re-evaluation?

This discussion and self-investigation regarding racism and privilege starts with each and every one of us. It is another layer that needs to have a place in our minds, hearts, actions and on our D&I agenda.

Carina Furlong & Sheila Gemin, Co-Presidents PWN Global

Carina furlong

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *