Blair Imani, 24
Civic Action & Campaign Lead at DoSomething.org
Identifying as Black, Muslim and Queer is far from easy in a society still built predominantly on stereotypes and status quo. But for Blair Imani, the Civic Action & Campaign Lead for DoSomething.org, being a triple minority - and the judgement she’s faced because of it - has fueled her crusade to implement social justice. The activist, who works for the largest tech company for youth engagement, has a simple mantra: “honor yourself.” Judging by her fierce, fearless dedication to the cause, change is on the way.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I have always imagined being a full time activist and today I work with the largest tech company for youth engagement and social change. My greatest achievement is likely yet to come as I am just starting out in this role but so far it is overcoming the belief that I could not do what I love and make a living doing so.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
I’ve been told that I was too concerned about social justice to ever be successful. I have also been told to "grow up" or "join the real world" many many times. Now, people seek out my expertise about grassroots and social activism!
3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?
I am constantly facing the stereotypes of what it means to be Black, a woman, a Muslim, and a queer person. After I came out very publicly on Fox News as a queer Muslim woman, I realized that people are going to find a reason to hate you no matter what.
"After I came out very publicly on Fox News as a queer Muslim woman, I realized that people are going to find a reason to hate you no matter what."
When Tucker Carlson implied that I could not be Black, Muslim, and a part of the LGBTQ community I made a split second decision to #SWAAYthenarrative and make a declaration of who I am.
4. As you #SWAAYthenarrative, do you feel empowered? What has been your emotional reaction?
I now understand that the healthiest thing you can do for yourself is develop a fierce and unapologetic love for yourself. This does not mean you should be consumed by your own ego but you should be gentle and respectful of yourself. You may as well fall in love with who you are!
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
I would say that it is key to realize where these biases come from. To keep from internalizing and believing them, arm yourself with knowledge of the historical context from which these stereotypes emerged. Once we know what we are up against, in my experience, it becomes easier to navigate through the nonsense and realize your full potential. Above all, give yourself credit for what you have survived, what you are creating, and who you have become. Honor yourself.
"Once we know what we are up against, in my experience, it becomes easier to navigate through the nonsense and realize your full potential. Above all, give yourself credit for what you have survived, what you are creating, and who you have become."
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.