The Power of Networks and Women of Color: Elle.com Scholar Reflection

December 20, 2016

It is not often you think of warmth when you think of the city of New York. The cold wind greets you with a harsh hello and the constant honking of automobiles becomes a new language you must learn. There are unimaginable crowds of eager tourists and slightly peeved New Yorkers conditioned to the fact that someone will always be inadvertently pressed against them on the streets.

However, a much needed warmth is what I remember from the three days I spent in this city, found both in the people I met and the support system I discovered.

During my time as an Elle.com scholar, I am no longer surprised by the power of women, particularly women of color. They are a sweet, dynamic melody I choose first in my playlist – the crescendos of empowerment and the subtle staccatos of unapologetic resistance appearing in the form of mentorship. They are strategic harmonies making an unintended impact not noticed until you experience it fully.  Every woman I met in New York was an unspoken protest of social norms. Instead of being points of comparison, their achievements became opportunities for mentorship and collaboration.  I found it emotionally uplifting, to build a genuine support system  because I often wondered if I belonged in a city like New York or in a professional field like journalism. The emotions came second to the impact these interactions can do for the professional and social progress of people like me.

It has become common knowledge for students of the higher education system that the connections you build are integral to the mobilization of your professional career, whether it be in journalism or another professional field. Knowing the right people can provide the inside edge that land you your next job or give you that next needed referral. This networking, however, can be a dangerous tool that has long been used against women and people of color.

It is evident that there has been a homogeneity problem in the industry of journalism. News outlets often prioritize experiences less available to minorities such as unpaid internships or campus newspapers which affect the diversity of news publications. And the old boy network,  rather valuable to one’s professional mobility, has let whiteness endure and has become a secret force for driving inequality in the United States. This favoritism drives the American job market, subtly minimizing the criteria of skills and merit, because people do not desire market competition – they want a leg up, an advantage in job prospects. This unequal opportunity, however, is not available to everyone because we help people within our social networks, who are typically people of our race or ethnic identity. Networking creates this implicit inequality making it difficult for people like me to find the job of their dreams, or even believe they can land it. And it continues to grow tougher for minority journalists entering 2017.

Therefore, to spend a weekend building a genuine, supportive network with talented women, specifically women of color, becomes a political statement. This networking is not one that encourages superficial connections to serve solely myself, but one that propels our communities. It is one that highlights the multifaceted potential and presents a significance of minority women, as directors, as editors, as mentors. It is one that broadcasts to the world that we matter, and we will stand up for one another in the ways we know how.

It was not a requirement for a prominent political scholar or a renowned journalist to travel the country with five young women at Wake Forest University; neither was it one for editors of a popular Hearst publication to offer opportunities for follow-ups and personal contact information. The heart of progressive media at the Clinton campaign, and one of few people of color, did not have to share her the volatile moment when she knew the results of the presidential election. But, they did, they all did.

I think we, particularly we as women of color, have found strength in the collective, because we show up, we organize, and we comfort one another during the deepest cuts of our complicated quilt. To meet and to learn from impressive women as Lauren Williams of Essence, or Zerlina Maxwell of the Clinton Campaign, as well as sit in the Bernard B. Jacobs theatre to hear Cynthia Erivo effortlessly sing, “I’m Here,” of The Color Purple, is a reinvigoration of a simple, but revolutionary thought, “We belong wherever the hell we want.”

This concept is not foolishly learned without the knowledge of numerous obstacles we must jump through, or the constant need to be twice as good as our privileged counterparts, to even be considered for jobs. In everyone room I sat and everyone person I met, I knew how hard it was to get to their status, but I also knew that they could help make the journey easier for young women like me.

Learn more about Ann Nguyen and ELLE.com Scholars Program