Study highlights barriers Black women face in corporate America

Study highlights barriers Black women face in corporate America

Black women in corporate America are less likely than their male or white colleagues to be promoted or to receive the support and access they need to advance despite being just as ambitious, a report from the Lean In Foundation finds.

Based primarily on data from Lean In and McKinsey & Company's annual Women in the Workplace study, the report, The State of Black Women in Corporate America 2020 (HTML or PDF, 38 pages), found that African-American women, who seek promotions at the same rate as white men, are only 58 percent as likely to be promoted to a managerial position and only 64 percent as likely to be hired into such positions. At a disadvantage from the beginning of their careers, Black women see the representation gap continue to widen and end up accounting for only 1.6 percent of vice presidents and 1.4 percent of C-suite executives, while white men hold 57 percent and 68 percent of those positions.

According to the study, Black women are less likely than men, white women, Latinas, or Asian-American women to say their manager advocates for new opportunities for them (29 percent), gives them opportunities to manage people and projects (36 percent), or helps them manage their career path (22 percent), while they are more likely to have never interacted with a senior leader about their work (41 percent) or informally (59 percent). The report also found that Black women are far more likely to face day-to-day discrimination at work than men or other women, including others questioning their judgment in their area of expertise (41 percent) and expressing surprise at their skills or abilities (26 percent).

The report also found that 54 percent of African-American women report often being the only Black person or one of the only Black people in the room at work, and are more likely than men or other women to feel excluded (23 percent), closely watched (41 percent), under pressure to perform (49 percent), and as though their actions reflect positively or negatively on all African Americans. And while 81 percent of white women and 82 percent of white men see themselves as allies of colleagues of other races/ethnicities and 42 percent and 43 percent say Black women have strong allies in their workplace, only 26 percent of Black women agree that they have strong allies.

To address barriers to Black women's advancement, the report calls on companies to take both gender and race into account when setting representation targets; provide mentoring, sponsorship, and professional development opportunities; share key metrics with employees and do more to foster a sense of organization-wide accountability; and reward progress by incorporating diversity targets into senior leaders' performance expectations and reviews. Recommendations for reducing bias in hiring and promotions include requiring a diverse slate of final candidates for every position, providing unconscious bias training for evaluators, and anonymizing resumes and skills assignments, while those for creating a more inclusive workplace includes comprehensive allyship and anti-racism training as well as a review of employee conduct guidelines and how company and team norms are developed. 

"I feel like expectations for me as a Black woman are much higher than those of my white counterparts," the report quotes an employee of twelve years as saying. "It feels like I am expected to go above and beyond while my colleagues at the same level just do what is described in our job descriptions."

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

"The state of Black Women in Corporate America 2020." Lean In Foundation report 08/31/2020.