Study focuses on women of color in leadership roles in W MI

Pat Sosa VerDuin, Shannon Cohen
Researchers Pat Sosa VerDuin (left) and Shannon Cohen. (March 1, 2017)

ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A new study that focuses on women of color working in West Michigan will be unveiled Thursday at Grand Valley State University.

The study was conducted over a year by Shannon Cohen and Pat Sosa VerDuin, GVSU alumnae, through their W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Network fellowship.

“Invisible Walls, Ceilings and Floors: Championing the Voices and Inclusion of Female Leaders of Color in West Michigan” included 120 women of color from Kent and Ottawa counties who hold mid- to upper-level management roles in their workplace.

In addition to taking into account the participants’ background, the study asked specific questions that can lead to constructive feedback in the workplace. For example, one such question asked, “What specific, achievable strategies could be implemented to increase the number of women of color in leadership positions in West Michigan…”

“We wanted to create a platform to add a qualitative data compensation to some of the emerging quantitative discussions we’re seeing about racial gaps and disparities we’re seeing in West Michigan,” Cohen told 24 Hour News 8.

One of the disparities, she explained, is the false narrative that there are no qualified women of color to fill vacancies in public, nonprofit and private sector leadership roles.

The survey findings tell a different story. Eighty percent of the women polled have a bachelor’s degree, while 57 percent have an advanced degree beyond that.

“If you take a look at the affinity groups that are coming up, whether it’s the Native American or the Asian or Latinas, on the lakeshore or in Grand Rapids, that is clearly a demonstration that the community is diverse and talented and alive and wanting to find each other,” Sosa VerDuin said.

The affinity groups in the area are where the co-authors found their survey sample. They also hope forums planned for March will better connect those groups to hiring managers because the study found that many companies hire from within while attempting to diversify the workplace.

“The gap with referral hiring is that often folks’ networks reflect their own identity. So if you have a pretty homogenous organization ethnically or racially or even gender and you’re using referral hiring but yet you have a goal of equity and inclusion, there’s always going to be a disconnect. So we have to look at using different methods if we want to drive different outcomes,” Cohen said.

Thursday’s forum will be held at noon at GVSU’s Kirkhof Center in Allendale. More information and registration can be done on the event page. A second forum will be held at GVSU’s Grand Rapids campus at 6 p.m. March 16, the same day Cohen and Sosa VerDuin will launch to continue discussions about women of color achieving management-level roles.