Navigating the Boardroom: The Unseen Challenges of Being the Only Person of Color

Tania A. Ibarra, CPA
January 30, 2020

Stepping onto a board of directors is a privilege, offering a chance to shape an organization's trajectory and network with influential individuals. But for individuals of color, this opportunity can come with a unique set of pressures. Alia Stevenson, a Step Up facilitator, delves into the complexities of navigating the boardroom as the only person of color.

Invisible & Visible at Once:

Imagine being both seen as different and overlooked at the same time. This is the reality for many people of color on boards. They stand out visually, yet navigating the unspoken rules and language of a predominantly white space can feel isolating.

Double-Edged Expectations:

The pressure can be multifaceted. On one hand, they might be seen as fulfilling a "diversity quota" rather than valued for their expertise. On the other, their contributions may be scrutinized more intensely as they strive to be seen as equal players.

The Burden of Representation:

For people of color, being "the only one" in a room is nothing new. They carry the weight of representing their entire community, feeling pressure to disprove stereotypes and carefully calculate every word. This can lead to self-silencing or overthinking, hindering their full participation.

Building a More Equitable Boardroom:

Change is possible! Here are steps organizations can take to create a more welcoming and inclusive board environment:

  • Bring on diverse cohorts: Avoid tokenism by onboarding multiple individuals of color at once.
  • Embrace diverse leadership: Ensure representation extends to officer positions, not just board seats.
  • Champion shared leadership: Foster a collaborative environment where everyone's voice is valued.

Boardrooms have the power to shape organizations into spaces that reflect and celebrate diversity. By acknowledging the challenges faced by people of color and taking action to create a more inclusive environment, we can unlock the full potential of every board member and build a better future for all.