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Knowles: Olympia Fields resident works to help black women obtain a variety of leadership roles
Sandra Finley was mentored by the late activist Arnita Young Boswell, the first national director of the early learning program Head Start.
Boswell, a key organizer of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s 1966 fair housing march in Chicago, provided a lot of great advice to Finley.
Today, Finley is president and CEO of the League of Black Women, which Boswell founded. Just as Boswell helped Finley, the group also has worked to provide professional leadership development for black women.
One of the greatest lessons that Boswell taught her was the importance of an unified effort.
“What we can do together, is like Delta soil. It’s rich,” Finley, of Olympia Fields, recalled Boswell telling her.
“Think of us as an advocacy think tank,” Boswell added. “We have one mission and that is to determine the best strategic pathways for black women to ascend to leadership.”
The organization, which Finley has headed since 2000, conducts workshops and webinars at such sites as Harvard University, Black Women’s Expo and at other events.
“Our distinctive anchor work is research,” said Finley, who spoke earlier this year at the 2018 Harvard University Gender and Work Symposium on the league’s latest report, “Black Women’s Economic Agenda, Blackwomanomics: A Policy Framework.”
On the agenda for public policy makers should be addressing pay disparity with policies that take into account the systemic discrimination black woman suffer that don’t leave them perpetually behind, Finley said. They also should support the growth of successful black women-owned businesses, she said.
“Our businesses are too small,” she said.
They need to be mid-sized and large to provide more opportunities in African-American communities, she said.
Black families send their kids to college, they graduate and typically have to go outside their communities to pursue career opportunities, she said.
“We are the greatest exporters of talent,” she said. “Black woman-owned businesses need to be vibrant enough to help anchor the economic security of their communities.”
Among the group’s public policy recommendations are the establishment of a national women’s bank with a mandate that prioritizes services and programs for black women and encouragement of black women-owned banks. The group also wants assure black women specifically are recruited for government contract bidding opportunities.
The league, which has a database of 6,000 women, offers mentorship support for professional woman and entrepreneurs and plans to unveil a new entrepreneur initiative next year to help black women business owners, Finley said.
Over the years, the league, which started in 1970, has done important surveys and research looking at professional black women’s attitudes and perceptions about risk and risk-taking. That research done in partnership with Deloitte and DePaul University found that it is a myth that black professional women don’t take risks. The problem is they don’t get the appropriate return on their risk investment.
The report said black women need to: establish appropriate networks of sponsors and advisors to help them with their careers. The report also wants the women to pursue better opportunities when they don’t get proper recognition and support on their jobs.
Black women must seek out organizations that embrace who they are and the talent they bring to the table, Finley said.
In short, know what you’re getting into. She offered the analogy, “If you go into a bad neighborhood you’re going to get jacked.”
Meanwhile, earlier research the organization did in partnership with Booz Allen Hamilton on what’s key to fostering the leadership potential of black woman said, “organizations must foster climates that are receptive to bicultural leadership without resistance or sabotage,” and “recognize and acknowledge that white males have a continuing advantage because of their primacy in setting the cultural norms and their numerical domination in the hierarchy of American organizations.”
To extend advantage to others, the league recommends in part that “companies provide early leadership training and coaching to help black women successfully confront negative stereotypes” and “foster a culture of inclusion that addresses the needs of black women as defined by black women.”
Among individuals who have been helped in her nonprofit entrepreneurial pursuit by the league is Flossmoor resident Dr. Shelley Amuh, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Advocate South Suburban Hospital and Advocate Trinity Hospital, who is launching a nonprofit, the Puddle Project. The organization is a mentorship program to assist pregnant teens in “navigating through high school into college or training programs so they can take care of themselves and their children,” Amuh said.
The league helped link her with a legal organization that connects lawyers wanting to volunteer at nonprofits, she said. League participants also provided her guidance on how to put together a strong board.
She has participated in virtual seminars on how to more effectively use her time, the importance of knowing what you’re good at and what you’re not good at, and designating accordingly, she said.
“There's no way I would have been able to do what I have done without the help of women in the league,” she said.