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How Women of Color Can Leverage Emotional Intelligence to Become Leaders


Award-winning social worker. Co-founder/CINO at WorkLifeHealth.designan executive coaching and social impact consulting firm.

According to Catalyst, one in five Americans is a woman of color, and in the United States, by 2060, women of color (WOC) will be the majority of all women. WOCs represent two or more intersectional identities that make it difficult to navigate advancement and leadership, given that systemic oppression still exists. The need to redefine leadership that includes the WOC and other members of traditionally marginalized groups is long overdue. To conceptualize leadership in a transformational way, it is imperative to break free from traditional and outdated notions of how leadership has been recognized and defined – white, heterosexual, cisgender and male and the associated characteristics closely tied to this identity.

Society has gradually become more diverse over time, but many organizations still struggle to make the necessary cultural transformations that would go beyond mere window dressing to create cultures that truly embody diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging (DEIB) and intersectional social justice. As an executive leadership coach, I have found that when WOCs learn to use their emotional intelligence to thrive rather than just to survive, they become much better equipped to meet their challenges and can thrive despite the realities of systemic bias and racism. The modern world needs emotionally intelligent leaders to reshape workplaces and society as a whole, and WOCs are more than capable of meeting the challenges of the present and the future. This is the first in a series that will explore how WOC can leverage emotional intelligence to become leaders.

So what is emotional intelligence (EI)? As Maya Angelou is often told, “I learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” These words allude to the power of EI, which is the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions. and recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others. Psychologist Daniel Goleman has identified twelve skills in four areas.

  • Self-awareness
  • emotional self-awareness
  • Self management
  • Emotional self-control
  • Adaptability
  • Orientation to success
  • Positive view
  • Social consciousness
  • Empathy
  • Organizational awareness
  • relationship management
  • Influence
  • Coach and Mentor
  • Conflict management
  • Team work
  • Inspirational direction

For now, let’s take a look at each of the areas. More will be explored in later articles.


With self-awareness as the foundation, the skills in each area build on each other. To take advantage of this realm, you must “Know thyself”, as the Delphic maxim goes. A good starting point for clarifying who you are is to identify your core values. Listening to what your emotions are telling you is important. What values ​​are non-negotiable and how aligned are they with how you live your life?

For WOC, it is important to be clear about who you are and how others perceive you, especially when prejudice and racism can be factored into everyday reality. Recognize that who you are is how you lead.

Self management

Building on self-awareness is self-management. An effective way to tap into this area is to choose mindfulness over mindfulness. Mindfulness is active intentionality; instantaneous awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts, feelings and external environment; and recognize and accept the thoughts and feelings without judgement.

It can be practiced formally through meditation or practiced informally in how you choose to be present, such as how you might enjoy a good meal in a pleasant space paying attention to how you experience it through all your senses. For WOC, it is important to consider that effective self-management is about knowing how to manage yourself well to be at your best rather than learning to conform to the status quo.

Social consciousness

Social consciousness relies on self-awareness and self-management. To take advantage of this area, sharpen your listening and observation skills. To make people feel seen and heard, listen with your eyes, ears and heart. Pay attention to facial expressions and body language, as well as tone, inflection, and volume. Set aside your judgment to understand how someone feels from their perspective and show compassion. True connection is cultivated through empathy and can pave the way for mutual understanding.

WOC can use social awareness to build and strengthen its networks towards solidarity and alliance and strategically challenge the status quo at all levels of racism to promote inclusive behaviors.

relationship management

Finally, relationship management, which concerns interpersonal dynamics. How well do you communicate and cultivate relationships? To be effective, this area requires you to focus on self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness. By doing so, you can create genuinely strong bonds with people.

One way to take advantage of this fourth area is to learn how to better give and receive feedback, an essential skill for WOC. Receiving feedback is essential to the development and advancement of our careers, and being effective in providing feedback helps others do better, whether that be our leaders, peers or direct reports.

Feedback is a gift, and being able to do it well requires all skills in all areas. Be proactive and seek input from as many people as possible. Two-way feedback done well can increase awareness that facilitates growth while strengthening the relationship when empathy is part of the feedback given or received. The better you are able to receive feedback, the better you will be able to give. It is important for WOC to consider how to build and strengthen relationships to help us get what we need and deserve to succeed and thrive.

By leveraging emotional intelligence, women of color can become leaders by becoming more adept at meeting the challenges of challenging the stereotypes, biases and assumptions that accompany marginalization and advancing progress in dismantling systems of oppression. Diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and intersectional social justice work is nothing less than leadership work. So who better to succeed than women of color as leaders of social and cultural transformation? As a woman of color, what do you think and how do you think we could imagine ourselves becoming leaders by leveraging the 12 skills of emotional intelligence?

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