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Empowering Black Women East of the River: Overcoming Economic Barriers

At the Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation (JBRF), we are deeply committed to addressing the stark realities and challenges that Black women face in Washington D.C. East of the River, particularly regarding securing and retaining gainful, sustainable employment. By closely working with the community using a trust-based philanthropy model, we uncovered that physical and economic health go hand in hand: If a woman has limited access to fairly paid, sustainable employment, she experiences diminished access to optimal health care. The vicious cycle of resultant poor health also impacts her ability to participate in economic opportunities. The Black Women Thriving East of the River initiative, launched in 2019, was our response to these challenges, focusing on workforce development and improving the cancer survival rate of Black women in these communities​​.

The Harsh Reality of Economic Disparities

The data paints a clear picture of the systemic challenges that Black women face in the areas of economic mobility and cancer mortality. The connection might not be immediately apparent, but it is stark in the lives of women living these realities daily. They experience cancer at significantly higher rates than their White counterparts, and the economic disparities are glaring. Despite a city-wide increase in household income, wages for Black residents have stagnated, and unemployment among this demographic has risen by 32%. Black women face the compounded oppression of misogynoir, which results in them being undervalued in the workplace and subject to occupational segregation due to racist hiring and promotion practices. You can read more about the relationship between economic status and cancer care in our previous post: How do economic disparities influence black women’s cancer journeys?

Tackling Workforce Development Barriers Through Strategic Initiatives

Through the Black Women Thriving East of the River initiative that JBRF incubated and continues to fund, its Workforce Group has focused on two key areas: developing a training program and delivery system and addressing issues related to employers, wages, and benefits within health-related careers. It aims to create new programs that meet the specific needs of Black women by changing employer practices and policies, fostering supportive work environments, improving employee retention, and increasing representation within health care at the same time. 

To navigate the complex workforce development systems in the D.C. area, we conducted a landscape analysis and are developing a data coordination system. These will help us understand the scope of current workforce development opportunities within health care and create a map of all available programs. This initiative aims to build a baseline of race-specific and culturally competent data, crucial for informing future interventions and fostering increased engagement with the system​.

Supporting Education and Career Advancement

Our scholarship program offers financial support to Black women pursuing health-related careers in recognition of the high barriers to entry in this field. Furthermore, folded into this program to ensure program persistence and career advancement, participants receive support to address barriers that might prevent their completion, and also a career coach to help navigate the health-related careers pathway. In addition,  another approach to advance increasing Black women practitioners in the health field includes expanding apprenticeship opportunities in health-related careers, and ensuring these programs are rooted in equity. Our comprehensive wraparound services will include mentorship and health-related career programs for youth and young professionals that provide clear paths to successful careers​​.

Fostering Employer Collaboration and Research

Through the funding from JBRF and the Health Equity Fund and the goal of Black Women Thriving is to organize a Workforce Development Employer Forum to promote best practices and highlight successful employer partnerships. This thought leader forum will aim to advance equity, inclusion, and sustainability in hiring and retention practices. Additionally, our research initiative examines racial equity in workforce development and the importance of family-sustaining wages. An employment resource website will support Black women in identifying and advancing in health-related careers​​.

Our work at JBRF, through the Black Women Thriving East of the River, is just the beginning. The challenges we address require a collective effort, and we invite other organizations to join us in this crucial mission. By focusing on community-centered solutions and valuing the lived experiences of those we serve, we can create a future where Black women in Wards 7 and 8 not only survive but thrive, enjoying access to opportunities, resources, and effective treatment for optimal health and economic success. This investment in their future is an investment in the health and vitality of our entire community.

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