Author: Sarah Cavill
There are only four black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and none of them are women. And, although there have been gains for black women on the board of Fortune 100 and 500 companies, the truth is that black women are underrepresented in corporate America with only one in 25 C-suite leaders a woman of color. “It’s hard to lean in when you’re not even in the room,” said Minda Harts, CEO and cofounder of The Memo, a career-development community platform.
The current climate around the country, and urgency for change, may prompt stakeholders to look at ways in which they and the corporations they work for can forge a better path toward diversity and inclusion.
In recent years, some corporate cultures have moved away from the word diversity, focusing more on inclusion and belonging. “Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a behavior, but belonging is the emotional outcome that people want in their organization,” said Christianne Garofalo, who leads diversity and inclusion at the executive recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles. Adding, “What’s fueling it [inclusion] is a desire to have a sense of purpose at work and a sense of community.”
How Can Corporations Create Meaningful And Lasting Opportunities For Black Women?
Corporations that want to create real opportunities for black women at their corporations need to implement concrete strategies that make women from diverse backgrounds feel a part of the culture of the company, and as eligible for advancement as their peers of all races and genders.
Here are several steps corporations should be taking to create lasting diversity:
Change hiring policies if the policies don’t prioritize diversity. Recruit from HBCUs, place ads with services and recruiters that target job seekers from diverse backgrounds, and investigate any biases in hiring that may exist in the corporate structure.
Amplify the success of black women at the company. Amplification can be performed through promotions, awards and recruitment and should be done in an authentic way that doesn’t feel performative.
Provide equal compensation. Black women are paid 21% less than white women, but they are less likely to leave their jobs because of care-giving responsibilities or fear of being labeled difficult. Taking an internal audit of the corporate pay structure and where there are discrepancies can lead to an environment in which salaries are equal and women feel confident advocating for raises.
Require comprehensive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training for all employees. An effective and enforced anti-harassment policy creates a safe environment without fear of retaliation or abuse.
Be accountable. Diversity initiatives are nothing new -- most major corporations have diversity and inclusion directors -- but, without accountability, CEOs may appear to be talking the talk without walking the walk. A diversity program should yield results that includes black women at every level of the company, including c-suite.
How Can Individuals Help Create Sustainable Diversity At Their Companies?
A corporation can, and should, have policies that facilitate diversity, but ultimately corporations are made up of people. Individuals have the power to change the environment for their colleagues, whether it’s extending a hand after their own promotions or speaking up when they see injustice.
Here are several strategies that individuals can practice to create an inclusive workplace:
A 2018 study from Boston Consulting Group found that companies “with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation,” and a McKinsey report revealed that diverse corporations are “33% more likely to outperform their peers on profitability.” Not only is diversity and inclusion the right thing to do, it’s good for businesses. Women at every level have the power to change and shape the way businesses evolve their diversity initiatives, and it’s up to all women to work together for a better, more equitable workplace.
Be an ally. Allyship is essential in the fight for equality in America, and that includes in the workplace. Women with the power to hire or promote black women should make every effort to do so. Actively being an advocate and seeking out black applicants or black colleagues for new positions or promotions should be a priority when possible.
Network. Attend networking events that offer the chance to meet women from all backgrounds, developing relationships that may lead to opportunities down the road. Minda Harts discussed having a “squad” of women she’s met through networking both in the workplace and at outside events. “We talk a lot about networking,” said Harts. “I think it's so important and crucial for women of color if we want the seat at the table.”
Speak up. Speaking up on behalf of colleagues that aren’t being respected or getting the promotions or credit they’ve earned can be an effective way to correct inappropriate power imbalances in the office. Trusted relationships in which colleagues rely on one another can create a culture of belonging.