It's Time for Women to Start Talking About the Elephant in the Room

April 17, 2009

Although I've liked to think of myself as an educated, evolved woman, it's only in the past few months -- as I've delved deeper into cultural differences among women -- that I've begun to grasp how oblivious I've been to the huge divide that separates Caucasian or Anglo American women from women of color. 

I've been stunned to discover that research studies show the percentage of women of color who feel they can trust Caucasian women is as low as 22%.  

Within the past month I experienced powerful, visual confirmation of the cultural divide between women when I had the opportunity to hear two of the most influential voices of my lifetime speak:  Dr. Maya Angelou and Feminist leader Gloria Steinem.  The lectures were four weeks apart in different performance halls, but they both spoke to sold out audiences in metropolitan Detroit. For Dr. Angelou, I would estimate the audience was over 90% African American women.  For Gloria Steinem, the racial mix was exactly the opposite:  closer to 95% Caucasian women.  

Since then, I've begun to interview experts who know much more than I do about this great divide between American women of different cultural backgrounds and socializiations.  One of my first conversations was with Dr. Anne Litwin, pictured here, a human and organizational development expert whose life work has focused on helping women in organizations to bridge differences and learn to support one another.   The first thing I learned from Dr. Litwin is that Caucasian women need to begin to educate ourselves about this "Elephant in the Room." The differences are deep.  But the payoffs for reaching across the divides will be huge. 

U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently said that we are "a nation of cowards" when it comes to talking about race.  Courage is one of the essential qualities that differentiates leaders, who help move society forward, from those who are simply individually successful achievers.  Courage is something you build -- like a muscle -- with repeated effort.  If you're interested in beginning to talk about this particular Elephant, I invited you to listen in on my conversation with Dr. Anne Litwin.  I hope it will get you thinking new thoughts, having courageous conversations -- and that you'll share this inteview with others.  

Stay in touch with Anne

Sign up here to receive special messages from Anne about current topics.