Dilim Dieke & Dipabali Chowdhury

Tell us about the work you do.

We started The Women of Color L.I.T Network, the first-ever women of color (multicultural) young professional network of emerging leaders nationally.  We empower women of color young professionals to achieve greater authenticity, inclusivity, and mobility in the workplace by providing a growing professional network, data informed trainings + workshops, career and life coaching, and advocacy initiatives.

L.I.T stands for Learn / Invest / Transform – which is everything that this network encompasses. We want to make sure that, we as emerging leaders in our industries, are constantly learning, constantly investing in ourselves both personally and professionally and working to transform our communities, being advocates for those whose voices cannot be heard. It just so happens that when you combine these words, the acronym is LIT – something that is authentic to us as people of color, vibrant, and a real testament to living in our truth which is at the core of the work that we’re doing.

What issue inspired you to pursue your current path? Is this what you envisioned to do when you were younger?

Dilim: Throughout our lives we always had strong and passionate female role models guiding us. These women help mold and shape us. Without their guidance, love, and mentorship we would not be here!

Dipabali and I dreamed as young girls of one day cultivating a women empowerment organization where multicultural women can be mentored, supported and for us to uplift one another.

Dipabali: The L.I.T Network journey started back in February 2017 when Dilim and I both worked at a local NYC non-profit organization. We started to have conversations about being a woman of color in the workplace and we felt like outsiders. We noticed disparities amongst those who were front-line and those in management positions. Managers didn’t reflect the demographics we served nor did we have anyone in the executive team who was a person of color.

Dilim: These stark disparities made us question why this was happening and if there was anything out there that addressed this issue. To our surprise, we did not find any groups that supported women of color young professionals. There were groups that focused on women of color managers and directors but none that focused on women who were 2-3 years out of college.

Dipabali: What started off as just a networking group expanded in vision to become an organization that not only provides trainings and workshops for women of color but also an organization that focuses on collecting data and research, which is truly limited for our demographic.

How did you get over your initial fears or barriers and take your first step?

We truly believe that when your heart is in it, the universe will find a way to make things happen for you. We worked for an organization that gave us an ultimatum and told us to choose between our full-time job or pursue creating the Women of Color L.I.T Network. The answer was simple for us. We chose L.I.T. We knew we were giving up our steady income and stability, but deep in our hearts, we believed in the power of creating an organization that so desperately needed to exist. Authenticity is one of our core values and we knew that staying at a job that did not support our passion and vision would contradict our values. Looking back, we could not be happier with our decision.

On another occasion, we met with a startup coach, who after hearing our mission, told us immediately that we were going to fail. Though we were taken aback, we knew that there will always be people who will doubt you. This doubt actually fueled us to work even harder.

From these experiences, we learned that you should never let other’s expectations limit you from living your reality. Always do what matters most to you. When you find yourself in a place where you have to make a huge decision, always let your values guide you and you will never be disappointed. Fear is a natural feeling. It’s what how you use your fear that defines you. We used our fear and barriers as catalysts for strength and resilience.

Even though the mainstream is in the midst of awomens revolution,” the reality is that womens voices are embarrassingly underrepresented in positions of leadership. Why is that?

According to the report, Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership, women only make up 19% of Congress and 28% of Corporate Executives. For women of color, these numbers are even more dismal. Latina, Asian, and African-American women hold fewer than 4% of senior executive level positions despite being 17% of the workforce. Although women are getting degrees at higher rates than men, there is something inherent in our system that is keeping women out of leadership positions. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), women face both subtle and overt discrimination in the workplace. There have been 30,000 cases of sexual discrimination in the past 5 years alone. Just think about all the cases of sexual harassment that are coming to light today.

Additionally, it becomes very challenging for women who wish to have families and succeed professionally. Unfortunately, this is still one of the biggest barriers preventing women from top level positions. Research shows that, women are not only the primary caretakers of their children but also for their elder relatives and aging parents. The Barriers and Bias report states that women often leave the workforce during their peak employment years. When women want to return to their careers after giving birth, they are often forced to quit their jobs because they aren’t given paid parental leave. Out of the world’s 196 countries, the US is only one of four that has no federally mandated policy to give new parents paid time off. That burden is placed on individual states and employers. Even when employers offer family-friendly policies, women are hesitant to use them because of fear of seeming “not committed” to their work.

What is the most common form of resistance you face, and how do you overcome it?

In today’s political climate it is even harder for us to do the work we are doing. When the man who holds the highest power in the land openly shows hatred, makes overtly racist and discriminatory comments then fuels others to do the same, our fight becomes incredibly difficult. But that does not mean we give up. In fact, now more than ever, we need to resist and stay resilient.

In our work, there is a misconception that focusing on women of color means that we do not want all women to succeed. This is incorrect. Our work by no means discounts the challenges that other women are facing. We are choosing to focus on women of color specifically because it is a part of our identity and we want to bring more light to the conversation regarding the intersecting issues of race and gender.

We also face the challenge of navigating and dismantling the structural inequalities that exist in the workplace. We combat this by remaining honest, vulnerable, authentic and making a conscious effort to bridge the divide through open dialogue and discourse.

What keeps you going?

Knowing that a universal platform of women of color young professional regardless of career industry does not exist, but is truly needed! By 2024, WOC are also projected to make up a larger percentage of the US labor force, which is driving the urgency behind the creation and passion of the L.I.T Network.

How can people support the work you’re doing?

Since we are new to the social entrepreneurship/startup space, we are always in need of folks who can mentor and guide us as we move to fully develop a social justice oriented startup. Additionally, we are always looking for organizations and business who would be interested in partnering and collaborating with us (i.e. hosting workshops and trainings). Why reinvent the wheel, when you can just come together!

However, this is not just our fight. This is all of our responsibilities – to make sure that we’re continually fighting so that our voices are heard, that we have decision making power, and that we can bring our whole selves to work. This is why we’re creating the LIT movement so that we can get there together. We want you to join in on this movement.

Allies (men and white women) – this is your fight too. We can’t do this alone. Don’t be a bystander. Speak up and elevate our voices. The fight does not start with you joining the LIT Network. The fight starts when you go back to your office and you see a woman of color being the victim of a microaggression, being treated differently than her white counterparts, not getting promoted when she rightfully deserves one.

Lastly, we would love people to support in spreading the word about the L.I.T Network! Follow us on Instagram; @woclitnetwork and add us on Facebook @ The Women of Color LIT Network. Tell you social network that the L.I.T Network exists and we would love for them to join us in this movement!

I’m called the Batman of Social Impact. What would be your superhero name?

Wonder Women of Economic Equity and Mobility