News: We Must Talk

Diversity is already an issue for career women

Aug 29, 2002 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

Linda Bates Parker says women must move beyond superficial understanding.

Linda Bates Parker had doors slammed in her face while doing market research for her company. Travel was part of her job, but it was a big problem.

"Everything from discrimination in terms of hotels to multiple identification and verification needed to rent cars," she says.

As one of the first black females hired in market research at Procter and Gamble, Bates Parker and her employer were facing new challenges in how to deal with these issues. Instead of giving up in the face of discrimination, she decided to start the Black Career Women Resource Center Inc.

"I needed to find ways to overcome those barriers if I was going to experience any success in my career," Bates Parker says. "It helped to overcome a feeling of isolation. It helped to substantiate that these were not mere perceptions. These kinds of affinity groups ... help to find meaningful and workable solutions."

The Black Career Women Resource Center is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Cincinnati that focuses on the professional development of black women and the issues they confront in the workplace.

It's been 25 years since Bates Parker started the organization, but she knows women still face problems in the work force, especially women of color.

"If women are confronted by issues of sexism, then women of color are confronted not only with sexism, then racism as well," she says.

"Can We Talk?" — the fourth national diversity forum sponsored by the Black Career Women Resource Center — is an attempt to draw together women from all walks of life to talk about the barriers of sexism and racism. The forum meets Sept. 12 and 13 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown.

The ultimate goal of the forum is to "improve the workplace for women and everyone," Bates Parker says.

Among the topics at the forum are workplace issues, media influences, "collusion and effective strategies for future collaborations among white women, black women and women of color."

The speakers include Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advisory organization that works to advance women in business and the professions. In 1997 Catalyst published a study called "Women of Color in Corporate Management: A Statistical Picture."

African-American women are the most under-represented women of color in private-sector management, according to the study. African Americans make up 12 percent of the female work force but only 7 percent of management-level women, the study found.

Bates Parker is working to try to make opportunities equal for women. She says this year's forum series builds on themes of getting past superficial understandings and misunderstandings in the workplace.

"There's much more of an investment in getting something that's substantial, that's going to challenge and motivate but not insult," Bates Parker says.

Patricia Pope, chair of the program design committee, owns a diversity consulting firm. Diversity training and cultural audits are part of her job.

Pope started out doing diversity training at Procter and Gamble in the 1970s. She volunteered to help with the forum, a project she and others have been working on for about a year and a half.

"My sense is that if you really want to engage women, you've got to create a safe environment and engage them at the emotional level," Pope says.

She hopes this will be accomplished by placing participants in small groups — groups that they will spend six hours working with during the course of the two-day forum. Part of the time will be spent getting to know other women in the group and deciding what should be taken away from the forum. There will also be opportunities to discuss what was learned from the speakers.

Speakers include Sandra Guzman, a journalist, author and leading expert in journalism targeting Hispanic women in the United States; and Valerie Lemmie, Cincinnati's first black female city manager.

Ann Simonton will speak on "Media Myths — How Media Images Lead to Misconceptions." Simonton, a former professional model who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, founded Media Watch.

"Our main goal is to help people become more critical reviewers of the media," she says.

Simonton says she'll be speaking in particular about how media images lead to misconceptions about gender, race and class.

"There are these stereotypes that are just glaring," she says.

One example she gives is an ad for a DuPont product, Tactel, that shows a nude black woman bent over with her black skin made to look white. On her body is written the message, "Let me stand out and still be under cover."

Media Watch has started a campaign to encourage people to write to DuPont to express their dislike for the ad.

For more information or to register for "Can We Talk?," call 513-531-1932 or visit