How to create a workplace that truly values black women


One of the most puzzling things I’ve seen over the past few weeks is the immense outpouring of racial justice support from brands. Between the corporate statements and the black squares on Instagram, my hopeful self is working to reconcile what I’m seeing online with what I’m seeing in the workplace.

While it’s important to see such support, I wonder: will our workforce look any different in one, two, and 10 years from now because of it? Will anything have changed? Will black people still represent less than 1 percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs—none of whom are female? Will black women continue to earn 61 cents for every one dollar their white male colleagues earn? Will they continue to represent less than 0.2 percent of venture-backed founders?

If we are truly as outraged as we say we are on social media, then it’s time we fix the structural inequities plaguing corporate America. Perhaps instead of focusing on how to reopen the economy, we need to focus on how to restructure it. What can we do to create an economic ecosystem that values black women equitably?

That is the question CEOs, myself included, must answer. It is a calling we must answer to. At a time when 69 percent of Americans say that the reaction of CEOs to Black Lives Matter will permanently affect their buying decisions, when 71 percent of Americans want to see CEOs lend their help to the dual pandemic, and when 83 percent of Americans believe that CEOs’ actions speak louder than their words, it’s time to call on our better angels and commit to fixing a broken system. It’s time to change history, not repeat it.

The first step in fixing a broken system: integrate intersectionality

When we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, we often do so by grouping people into broad categories based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation and ability. We have our women’s employee resource group, our black employee resource group, our LGBTQ group, and so on. This approach to DEI is counterproductive. It silos people into buckets of identity—ignoring the overlapping, or intersecting, nature of our identities.

The intersection of our identities matters for several reasons. First, it directly impacts our lived experiences, our perspectives, and the biases we face. It recognizes that DEI is more than just “a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there” because we all represent a unique combination of identities.

Second, intersectionality impacts how we view power and privilege. As such, it influences the types of policies (systems) we create. When we view issues through the lens of intersectionality, our workplaces begin to look much different than before. We start seeing blind spots and uncover previously-invisible roadblocks that have prevented us from reaching true DEI.

The April and May jobs reports provide a practical example of this.

In April, while the overall unemployment rate had soared to 14.7 percent, the unemployment rate for women had jumped even higher, up to 16.2 percent. And it jumped even higher still for black women, who were facing a 16.4 percent unemployment rate in April.

A month later, when the May jobs report came out, many people cheered the drop in unemployment, which for women had declined to 13.9 percent. Black women, on the other hand, had less to be excited about. Their unemployment rate had risen to 16.5 percent.

By taking an intersectional approach to DEI, CEOs can capture critical dimensions of the employee experience. That’s step one. Step two requires us to use these dimensions to create equitable systems that lead to more inclusive workplaces.

Step two: Use data to correct structural inequities

How many of us believe that our likely successor will be a woman or person of color? Fourteen months ago, when Democratic Rep. Al Green of Texas asked that question to the CEOs from seven big banks, the response was bleak. Not one CEO indicated that their successor would be a woman or a person of color.

That’s a structural problem. And we can fix it, but not with words or donations. We must fix it by doing the hard work of embedding equity and inclusive into our organizational operating systems. Start by looking at the data. Where are black women falling out of our talent pipelines? For the average American company, the leaky pipeline starts early, at the very first promotion. Research shows that there are only 58 black women promoted from entry-level to manager for every 100 men promoted.

If we dig further into the current state in corporate America, we find that black women are not only promoted less frequently, they are also not provided the same level of resources, trainings, and opportunities as their colleagues. In fact, 19 percent of black women have received job or executive leadership training in their careers compared to 30 percent of white women and 33 percent of white men.

These statistics reveal a lot about how we value our talent. Clearly, not equitably. As CEOs, we must be brave and acknowledge that our organizations are perpetuating cycles of bias and exclusivity. We are operating on broken systems.

We must also be brave and deploy resources to rebuild these systems so that they value all talent equitably. This includes:

1,Creating a diverse leadership pipeline by committing to equitable rates of promotion.

2. Ensuring equitable representation on every step of the corporate ladder and in every boardroom.

3. Using advanced technologies to eliminate unconscious bias from talent decisions including performance reviews.

4. Providing employees with equitable access to resources, sponsorships and opportunities for career development.

Final actions CEOs should take to cement progress toward inclusion

I’m a breadwinner mom who fought to be paid equitably (twice) and won. In my fight for pay equity, I had to use my time and my resources to research my rights so that I could receive rightful compensation. It shouldn’t be this way. It doesn’t have to be this way—not on our watch.

As CEOs, we already have a seat at the table. We must use our power, privilege, and platforms to guarantee the rights and dignity of black women in the workforce. Here are some final recommendations to further cement progress toward inclusion in our workplaces.

1. Commit to closing pay gaps. Black women earn 39 percent less than white men, or 61 cents for every one dollar their white male colleagues earn. That adds up to over $950,000 in lost wages over a lifetime. The pay gap is even worse for black breadwinner moms, who earn 44 cents for every dollar white breadwinner dads earn. Excuses for pay inequity are running thin. We have the tools and technology to close pay gaps, so let’s close them.

2. Adopt a no-tolerance policy for racism. For nearly half of black women in the US, the workplace is where they most frequently experience racism. We must follow in the footsteps of Franklin Templeton, whose quick termination of Amy Cooper revealed their no-tolerance policy for racism. Our workplaces should not be the epicenter of racial injustice.

3. Provide paid caregiver and sick leave. Over a third of black women do not have access to paid sick leave. This poses problems because more than 51 percent of all black households with children in the US are headed by breadwinner moms. And within this 51 percent, 37 percentage points represent households with a sole breadwinner mom. Black women should not have to choose between their and their families’ economic well-being and caring for themselves or a loved one.

It’s on us to change the system. CEOs, let’s step up.

Katica Roy is a gender economist and the CEO and founder of Denver-based Pipeline, an award-winning SaaS company that leverages artificial intelligence to identify and drive economic gains through gender equity. Pipeline launched the first gender equity app on Salesforce’s AppExchange. The Pipeline platform was named one of TIME Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2019 and Fast Company’s 2020 World’s Most Innovative Companies



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