• The COVID-19 pandemic has shed a spotlight on inequities - with women of colour being impacted the most.
  • Here three women leaders of colour share their thoughts on how to make the world a more diverse and inclusive place.

Marian Croak has a unique way of looking at the world. It probably explains why the inventor of one of 2020’s most essential technologies - Voice over Internet Protocol - and Google’s Vice-President of Engineering has hundreds of patents to her name.

The COVID-19 pandemic, has in her view, ‘gifted’ the world with increased awareness of inequities - and the chance to do something about them.

“If we can zero in on that gift we’ve been given to see what the world is truly like and where the gaps are... I think it would be so beneficial to address that huge amount of inequity,” she said at a session during the World Economic Forum’s inaugural Pioneers of Change Summit in November 2020.

McKinsey analysis showed that in April last year, Black lives and livelihoods in America were already disproportionately affected by the pandemic. More recent research found women - and particularly women of colour - were more likely to have been laid off or furloughed, while working mothers were picking up more of the childcare.

McKinsey and LeanIn.Org’s Women In The Workplace 2020 report also found that just 3% of C-suite roles were taken by Black women, compared to 19% of white women and 66% of white men.

For the sixth year in a row, the underrepresentation of women and women of colour cannot be explained by attrition alone.
Just 3% of C-suite roles were taken by Black women in 2020.
Image: Mckinsey & Company

So how do we turn this awareness of the world’s inequities that have been exacerbated by COVID-19 into action to make the world a more diverse and inclusive place?

Here, Croak and two other women leaders of colour share their thoughts.

Revathi Advaithi

The CEO of manufacturing company Flex and one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business 2020 says sponsorship will be key to levelling the playing field in 2021.

“All companies need to find a way to sponsor women, sponsor minorities, sponsor Black people, whether it is for supply chain work or for work within your own company. I’m not taking away from mentorship, [but] we don’t need more mentoring.

“We need people who, at the point they’re going to make a decision, stand up for that woman, that Black person or that minority. And say I will make sure they can get that job or be awarded that business. Until that can happen passionately everywhere, we’re not going to see change at the pace we’d like to see it. So we need more sponsors, consistently, all the time, everywhere.”

Marian Croak

The inventor draws on her own experience of persevering with the voice over IP: “When it first came into being, it was a total failure… and there were many sceptics… But you see what we’ve accomplished today, it’s ubiquitous. And thank goodness that people have the fortitude to keep going, despite it seeming to be impossible.”

She also sees the current lack of diversity as an opportunity in itself.

“We often say we want to sit at the table, we want to fit in, we want to be part of whatever it is… But [not sitting at the table] is often of benefit because it allows us to step back and really be able to observe in quite an objective way as to where the gaps are and what's needed for change.

“If you're included and need to feel like you're part of a group, a lot of times that spoils your perspective, because there's this temptation to think like the group, to conform to the group, whereas invention and innovation requires you to think out of the box, to be unique, to be different. And just by our very nature, and the way that society has constructed things, we are different.”

What's the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle inequity.

The Forum's work on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Social Justice is driven by the New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity.

And she says, those who are the least affected have the most responsibility to help those who are: “The impact of COVID-19 has been much stronger on our demographic... It definitely has disrupted careers and the ability to contribute to the workforce. That may take quite a long time to heal. It’s incumbent upon many of us who have not yet been impacted in that way to really try to figure out how to correct that situation, as quickly as possible.

“When you look at the amount of need there is in the world and you forget about your own circumstances, but you get in touch with where the pain points are in the world, that’s what gives me both the motivation to keep going and thinking of new things that can help.”

Above all, keep a childlike sense of hope for the future.

“Whether or not you’re accepted, or how difficult your life may be, go inside of yourself and find that childlike hope and imagination, and just keep that growing and nurture that throughout your life. Don’t let that die off as soon as you grow older, because that’s where I think your source of change is going to be.”

Lindiwe Matlali

The Chief Executive Officer at Africa Teen Geeks and a Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur, believes no change is too small.

“For me being in education and obviously in Africa, it’s just knowing that the small change no matter how small, and the contributions you are making, makes a difference. And so even if it just helps one child one day to end up having the opportunities that I've had… I want to try to make sure that as many children as possible will get an education, so that they can also break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage, not just for themselves, but for their families too.”

She thinks visibility of role models such as Croak are also crucial: “We still have to fight to be included… [We need to make] sure people like [Croak] and their work are visible and and they get the credit they deserve…”

And she urges her students to understand and have realistic expectations of what it involves to achieve success. “The journey is just as important… You have to be good at what you want to become. The only way to get doors opened for you is to be impressive. So work so hard that you can’t be ignored.”