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On the Designing the Future of Work: An Interview with Angela Jackson

Our BlackHer Shero of the Week is Angela Jackson, partner, Learn to Earn Fund at New Profit. Jackson leads New Profit’s Future of Work Initiative, which seeks to close the career-readiness gap for Americans experiencing low wages. She is currently working on the launch of a $6M Future of Work global initiative to invest in entrepreneurs and companies developing innovative technical solutions to upskill low-income and entry-level workers at scale.

Angela, I feel like our conversation couldn’t come at a more critical time with the news that 16.4 percent of Black women are unemployed and 38.6M Americans have filed for unemployment since March.

Yes. This time is so urgent for me.  I’ve been thinking hard about how the future of work is funded and how our decisions will determine whether we will have an equitable post-COVID-19  recovery or if we will return to business as usual where we tolerated vast disparities in education and income attainment. We have a chance to do something big right now.  

When we think about how to invest via the private or philanthropic sectors in the future of work, we’re making design decisions. We all know that the workforce wasn’t working for Black women economically pre-COVID-19. And due to structural racism, we lack the safety nets to sustain ourselves during difficult periods. Any life event can destabilize us.  How then do we ensure that Black women have access to the new training, technologies, and wrap-around supports we need to compete in the jobs of the future? The future is Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), and Augmented Reality (AR). Burning Glass is an online resource that shows which fields are growing and paying a living wage. We need to identify the jobs and pathways that will help us live well now and into the future. That means making data-informed decisions about our work so that we position ourselves to have jobs and careers that provide financial stability and help us build wealth.

We also need to ensure that upskilling doesn’t take an inordinate amount of time or money.  There are real costs when Black women take time off to learn new skills because we are the primary breadwinners for our families.  We need to be able to earn and learn at the same time.  We need to speed up our retooling systems to learn in less time and with less money.  

I agree with what everything you’ve said but how do we do it? 

The first step is getting jobs with better wages.  I did very well in the private sector and the money I made allowed me to start my own business. This is not the norm. We need more access to capital. For example, venture capital that invests less than one percent in Black women needs to be corrected.  At New Profit, we are investing $6M in entrepreneurs who are thinking about the future of work in their communities.  We’re investing with a racial lens in entrepreneurs who have game-changing ideas about how to use technology to better their communities.  

That’s exciting and I want to push back on you a bit.  I feel like Black women are always being encouraged to get one more degree or credential.  But are our personal changes really the path to progress when workplace discrimination and other structural inequalities are holding us back?

It’s a good point.  And I agree.  We have to also think about how we change the systems that govern work.  For example, how do we advance pro-worker public policies?  

For example, there is work we can do to improve workforce boards that are responsible for training and upskilling folks. To be frank, some of the training provided by these entities is a waste of time because the courses are outdated. We need to make sure that this training is relevant to today’s jobs and workers.  

We also need to think more about the “social determinants of work” or the things that need to be in place, particularly for Black women, so that we can be successful on the job. 

For work to work for us, we need to think about transportation, childcare and more.  

The social determinants of work – that’s a great framework.  It’s similar to the social determinants of health. Our careers don’t happen in a vacuum. With many folks working from home during COVID-19, we see quite clearly that our success at work is tied to our success as mothers and caregivers.

Yes! And the Payroll Protection Act didn’t work for many people of color.  It didn’t provide agency to the leaders.  We need to talk to our legislators about these and other barriers.  

Where are you on income transfers?  As we think about the enormous loss of jobs due to the pandemic, do we need to think about cash transfers or income subsidies or ways that people can access cash without working?

Wealth and income are connected and most wealth comes from inheritance not work.  It’s wealth that provides you with a safety net during difficult times and enables you to go back to school or start a new business.  It’s hard for women to have access to the economy and even get in the game with no wealth. 

It’s also true that every time a crisis like this hits, we fall further behind.  I live in Boston where there are very wealthy families that have been here forever. Black people have a median net worth of $8, while whites have a net worth of $247,000. This figure impacts everything from the cost of groceries to where you can afford to live. There is no way that my family will catch up with those families.

Is there anything else you want to tell us about you or your work?

I joined New Profit because they are so committed to addressing the racial wealth gap.  Forty percent of our investments are in women and people of color. That’s really important.  I wanted to work with a firm that names and has a plan to change disparities.  We’ve got to do more to hold other philanthropies and investors accountable. 

Who are your BlackHer Sheroes?

There are so many people who inspire me.  Brittney Cooper, professor and author of Eloquent Rage is an amazing thinker whom I look to for inspiration.  

Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of the 1619 Project is also a shero.  She has so gracefully managed the backlash to her work.

Let me ask you the miracle question.  You go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow and it’s June 2021 and a miracle has occurred for Black women.  What happened?

We are not dying from COVID-19 and we are participating in all aspects of the recovery.  Our brilliance as entrepreneurs is recognized and we are reaping the benefits of investment in our companies that are commensurate with our skills.

Jocelyn

 

 

 

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