A response to the Boston Herald
In response to the Boston Herald’s overtly racist and sexist article on Masshousing’s dining expenses and the appointment of its executive director’s new role on the MBTA Fiscal Control Board, I felt compelled to express my disappointment in the tired narrative that follows women of color in leadership roles and in the workplace.
Chrystal Kornegay made headlines when she was named the executive director of MassHousing in February 2018, an independent, quasi-public agency charged with providing financing for affordable housing in Massachusetts. MassHousing raises capital by selling bonds and lends the proceeds to low- and moderate-income homebuyers and homeowners, and to developers who build or preserve affordable and/or mixed-income rental housing. Kornegay became the first black woman to lead the agency.
Although Kornegay is arguably over-qualified for the role she currently holds at MassHousing, having held several positions in public service and the community development sector from project manager to executive director to the top job in the housing world as the head of the Department of Housing and Community Development for the Commonwealth, she is still being subjected to the taunts of the old-school thinking that has led Boston to a massive leadership gap for professionals of color that include men and women.
The Boston Globe’s Spotlight series made a big splash last year when it referenced that power was still held in the hands of few white male executives in the city, and yet how can we be surprised when news headlines such as the one the Boston Herald promoted on January 29 discrediting Kornegay’s appointment to the MBTA fiscal control board and calling routine company outings “outlandish”, preys right into the hands of sexist and racist attitudes about the leadership potential of women of color.
The focus on the agency’s expenditures has a suspicious urgency as it comes one day after Kornegay was appointed by Gov. Baker on two of the Commonwealth’s transit boards. The leadership of women of color is often viewed under a critical magnifier as every move is challenged and questioned by those uncomfortable with the reality of a growing, diverse workforce and the rise of women of color in leadership roles.
Kornegay joins a long list of women who have been subjected to extraordinary scrutiny in comparison to their white colleagues. During Stacey Abrams’ historic campaign for governor of Georgia, the media became obsessed with her personal debt and finances, painting a picture of the candidate as one who would be unable to handle the pressures of a high public office. The true story hidden behind the scandalous headlines was Abrams’ commitment to her family’s health as she was a primary caretaker for her niece and later for her parents as they dealt with sudden illnesses that crippled their family’s finances. None of this made the news. The only thing that stuck was a black woman in debt running for high office.
Fast forward to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’ historic win as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and the conservative media’s attack on her finances as the millennial leader confessed to being unable to pay for housing in Washington D.C until her new job began. The stories that poured out from this relatable dilemma (D.C has one of the highest costs of living in the nation) were focused on Cortez’ fashion and less on the real matters at hand: rent is too damn high!
But women of color in public service and elected office aren’t the only ones who receive this type of crippling scrutiny. Women of color in the workplace are often overlooked for promotions, seen as “less likable” even as their white counterparts participate in similar behaviors. The emotional tax that professionals of color face, especially women, is very high. Not only do we need to seem less threatening to avoid the never-ending “Angry Black Woman” stereotype but we must also work for less pay as the persistent wage gap affects black and Latinx women more than any other minority group.
The term “emotional tax”—discussed in a study conducted by Catalyst—is in reference to the heightened experience of being different from peers at work because of your gender and/or race/ethnicity and the associated detrimental effects on health, well-being, and the ability to thrive at work. For women of color, that tax is two-fold. It comes from often being the only person of color in the room and often also the only woman.
Women of color have a “double hurdle” of not being too aggressive and proving, sometimes repeatedly, that we are intelligent enough to warrant an audience for our ideas. While women, white in particular, face what is commonly referred to as the “glass ceiling”—women of color face a “concrete ceiling” one much more complex to penetrate especially for black and Latinx women who historically rank as the lowest paid workers in America.
Still, we persist. Nearly 90 percent of women of color want to be influential leaders—demonstrating the benefit to companies of attracting and retaining top talent from all backgrounds. Research shows that teams with diverse perspectives produce higher-quality work than more homogenous teams. Even more research shows that companies whose leadership contains a higher proportion of women enjoy higher financial numbers than those with less women. As a young professional woman of color, age can also be tied into this equation. I have experienced my own stifling challenges of speaking up in the workplace and being perceived as “too young to lead” or “insecure” for pushing forward with my ideas.
If the Boston Herald is committed to fiscal oversight, I challenge their publication to also comb through the expense reports of white, male led organizations. The outcry around the expenditures at MassHousing is another coded method to discredit a Black woman in a position of power. Instead of focusing on the agency’s phenomenal housing record, the turmoil in the Boston housing market, or the peril many Boston residents face as rents skyrocket in the city, the sensationalized attacks were pointed out as a character flaw baited for clicks. The underlying statement is also that public service agency workers do not deserve to celebrate their accomplishments even though Masshousing does not use any public tax dollars to sustain its operations. In an era of massive income inequality, stagnating wages, and a growing racial leadership and wealth gap in Boston, we need to demand better. Breaking concrete ceilings for women of color comes with a tax—one that we all pay if we refuse to disrupt the status quo and uplift the potential that many of us carry.
Beyazmin Jimenez is a housing activist and Boston resident.