Thought leader Prof Stella Nkomo, who holds a strategic appointment in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences' Department of Human Resource Management, and esteemed colleague Prof Ella Bell-Smith joined Gwyneth Paltrow, Oscar winner and businesswoman, on her modern lifestyle podcast named Goop, for a wide-ranging conversation on their recently republished book, entitled Our Separate Ways: Black and White Women and the Struggle for Professional Identity
. The Goop podcast seeks to start hard conversations from a place of curiosity and non-judgment, which proved to be a suitable platform to engage the two authors' academic prowess and wisdom.
Our Separate Ways is a groundbreaking and timely contribution offering insight into the ongoing discourse within management research on how race, gender, class, power and inequality shape our workplaces, careers and relationships with colleagues. In the book, the authors document a critical framework for exploring the intersection of race and gender at work by comparing and contrasting the compelling life stories of 120 black and white women managers in America. The authors posit that the hard realisation from their findings was the relationship between the women – "the lack of sisterhood, mistrust and authority issues which arise within places of work."
The authors further contend that "white women have a glass ceiling, while black women have a concrete wall". Though people often believe that gender is a common denominator for women, a way to find each other, the book shows that "gender is not as powerful as people often expect it to be, culture is culture and being a black woman is, in fact, a racialised gender experience which is not the same".
Paltrow's two critical questions stood out during the conversation, the first being how women can dismantle competitiveness and create sisterhood across racial lines. The authors mutually agreed that the establishment of authentic relationships and trust among women was the answer. There is a need for risk-takers who can open up and seek to truly understand whiteness and the racial frame of being a black woman.
Paltrow's second question was what the authors would recommend business leaders consider when it comes to diversity. Prof Nkomo stated that leaders should look at who is working for the organisation and ensure that people are not stuck in stereotypical roles. Leaders should pay attention to the qualitative aspects of the workforce profile, more so than the numbers, while ensuring that all employees feel a sense of belonging within the workplace.
To conclude, all the women in the conversation agreed that race will always be a shadow within our society. However, people need to be brave and start conversations in order to reach greater understanding.
Lonwabo Makapela is currently a PhD candidate and Research Associate in the Department of Human Resource Management, University of Pretoria