Authors: Shannon Cohen & Pat Sosa VerDuin

Since the release of our “Invisible Walls, Ceilings, and Floors” research and the birth of Sisters Who Lead, we have been honored to speak in community and conference spaces seeking to foster workplace cultures where diversity, equity, and inclusion exist and thrive in word and deed. In this space, we continue to connect with intergenerational leaders of color to amplify their voices and the truths of their lived experience as leaders in this region.

Recently we spoke at the 2017 Young Professionals of Color Conference powered by Cascade Engineering. Our workshop title was “Breaking the Silence: Navigating the Unwritten Rules of Leadership Success”. As part of the session, attendees were invited to speak truth to the ‘people, power, and politic’ nuances encountered daily in their professional lives. We asked, “What do you wish you could openly say to the ‘powers that be’ in your workplace?’”. Attendees were asked to share these truths via a post it note. Over 108 young professionals of color participated and they held nothing back! The moment was transformative. In the safety of a community that ‘saw’ them, in a space that was positioned to ‘hear’ them, the leaders reflected and shared. Here is just a snippet of themes and truths shared:

Stop asking me to volunteer for only ‘black’ events
During interviews, don’t just assume I made it to college on athletic scholarships.
I am capable. I have ideas. I need support.
Young professionals of color need to see color reflected in the workforce.
I have a voice and good ideas… please listen to me! I can learn. Please teach me!
My opinion may not be the same as yours, but if I disagree, it doesn’t mean I have an ‘attitude’.
Our experiences are real and those experiences/skills matter.
Don’t write me off because of the way I look. I have a lot to offer.
Recognize that I’m different…there is no such thing as being ‘color blind’.
You can tell me the truth. I’m not sensitive, and I can handle honest feedback.
The help I offer to minorities in the community isn’t to benefit you… it’s for them.
It’s not ok that I am one of only two persons in our building who are Latino and speak Spanish.
Don’t be fearful to allow me to speak.
Don’t silence my voice.
Our skin color and gender does not define our work ethic, knowledge, capacity, or professionalism.
Just because I am a mother and family is extremely important to me doesn’t mean I am not committed.
Young does not equal inexperienced, young doesn’t equal unwise. If I say I can do it, let me.
We want to understand the why and strategy behind things so we can attach ourselves to a purpose.
I am not sure if mistakes=growth in the workplace. Can I be anything less than perfect to still be valued as an employee?

How will you use this feedback to advance a culture of fit and belonging within your workplace? Share your ideas at

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