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Underrepresentation in Education and Business Continues for Black Women in Arizona

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

By Clarissa Gallardo

The representation of Black women in educational and business environments is lacking throughout Arizona.

“You really don’t see a lot of Black women in leadership,” said Damara Lawshe, a project manager for Terros Health, a health care system that specializes in mental and substance use treatment.

Lawshe said she’s one of two Black women in a leadership position at her job.

“I think a lot of that just comes from a lack of wanting to hire Black women if I’m being honest because I know plenty of intelligent and very capable, strong willed, business structured Black women,” Lawshe said.

Kayla Purnell, a senior student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication can correlate with Lawshe.

“I do certainly feel like there’s animosity toward Black people in Arizona,” Purnell said.

Purnell said she doesn’t think there is enough representation of Black women in Arizona considering it is predominantly a white and Hispanic state.

“It can be discouraging at times, some of the Black leaders in my company, the only time I see them is usually really just in meetings,” Lawshe said.

Purnell recalled an experience that happened to her in a class.

“She was white and she was shocked we were in the same class and I was like ‘why are you shocked?’” Purnell said.

Lawshe said because she is a Black woman in a leadership role it throws people off guard.

“I’m always, always, always am getting told like ‘Oh my goodness I’m so impressed by your background’ or ‘you’re so intelligent,’ ‘you speak very well’ kind of more so those microaggressions, especially because I’m young,” Lawshe said.

Purnell said she can see the animosity when people portray their thoughts.

“… saying ‘well you shouldn’t be here’ or ‘why are you doing that you’re Black’” Purnell said. She adds, “…people will think because you’re Black you’re going to be loud.”

Lawshe said she often gets backhanded compliments from others.

“…she was like ‘you’re just so assertive, you’re just so direct’ and she was just saying like – you know you’re just able to get things done and like you have a certain type of – pretty much saying attitude – I think she said ‘aura,’” Lawshe said.

Lawshe said because she is a Black woman in leadership she purposely doesn’t mention her age because she doesn’t want to get judged for that either.

“Moving here (Arizona) where you don’t see (Black women in leadership) that at all, it’s kind of really discouraging to be honest and it’s really sad,” Lawshe said.

Lawshe said they have five Black women providers but based on the data she sees, their workload is more intense than the other providers.

“…so it’s like you guys want to celebrate us and put us in these positions when it comes to getting the work done and all that but for some reason, it’s kind of difficult for us,” Lawshe said.

On a positive note, Purnell said since the pandemic there’s been an emerging number of Black women leaders and Black women owners in Arizona.

“It’s very small, could be bigger, but I’m glad to see it now,” Purnell said.

Lawshe said she doesn’t see Black women working for corporations, if anything they own their own businesses and still work for those corporations but not always at such a high level.

“Being a Black woman is very versatile, very hard, many tragedies that come with it and backlash so I say believe in yourself first before you have other people believe in you,” Purnell said.

Purnell said to stay true to yourself because regardless of how they’re portrayed, not all Black women are the same.

Purnell said, “…stay authentic but also remember to remain humble and give back to your people.” 


Cover photo from Pinterest


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