An Honest Conversation About Race in the Workplace

An Honest Conversation About Race in the Workplace

Dealing with issues related to race in the workplace is a challenge for many professionals of color. Nearly every black woman in the workforce can attest to undergoing some form of racism, whether overt or covert, at the hands of a client, customer, colleague, or manager. Sometimes it’s in the form of a microaggression while, at other times, sisters are passed over for a deserved promotion or bonus without a reasonable explanation. It’s also the root cause of many of the unnecessary obstacles and hurdles that women of color face on the job but, somehow, it makes us stronger.

(from L-R) Aisha Thomas-Petit, Carolynn Johnson, Sarah Eames, and Valerie Rainford (Black Enterprise)

At the 2019 Women of Power Summit, an annual leadership conference designed for professional women of color, four corporate leaders held an open dialogue on the issues shaping race relations within companies and shared strategies for successfully navigating race for women at every level of their organizations. The conversation also focused on forming intentional relationships with allies in the workplace. Meanwhile, Sarah Eames, a partner at Healthcare CEO and Healthcare Services Practice Leader, Russell Reynolds Associates, talked about being an ally to help people of color advance in their careers.

Here are a few of the gems that the speakers shared during the session, titled “Intersectionality: An Honest Conversation About Race in the Workplace.”

Valerie Rainford (Black Enterprise)

Valerie Rainford

Managing Director; Head of Advancing Black Leaders & Diversity Advancement Strategies, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  • “It’s very uncomfortable to talk about race.”
  • “Sometimes we don’t know our own power to change a culture…[and] our own ability to slay.”
  • “Angry doesn’t work everywhere, but passion does…know your culture.”
  • “When I had that epiphany—that there is nobody who walks, talks, and thinks like Valerie Rainford—that became my competitive advantage.”

Carolynn Johnson (Black Enterprise)

Carolynn Johnson

COO, DiversityInc.

  • “I am an angry black woman. I’m owning it [so that] you won’t shame me by saying it.”
  • “Power is not taken. Power is given.”
  • “I didn’t realize that I was in a box until I was gently uplifted out of it.”
  • “I was ready to give up.”
  • “Allies aren’t just white men or people who have more power than you.”
  • In order to get over our fear and our shame, we have to understand the other side of racial fatigue.

Aisha Thomas-Petit (Black Enterprise)

Aisha Thomas-Petit

Division Vice President, HR, ADP
  • In order to create an ally, you actually have to have a deeper relationship in order to do so.


  • Look at your networks: are they diverse and inclusive?


  • Being a woman and black “is actually a double blessing.”