Posted: 10/23/2019

Inclusion still isn't working for many women of color

By Valerie Bolden-Barrett

Dive Brief:

  • Some workplaces have failed to support many black and Hispanic women, regardless of a commitment to diversity and inclusion (D&I), a Harvard Business Review (HBR) study found. Black women whose jobs required more interaction with their colleagues reported being what HBR described as less "emotionally vulnerable" at work, suggesting that they may not be cultivating supportive relationships with co-workers. Similar outcomes were found for Hispanic women.
  • HBR said the study stemmed from one of its "Women at Work" podcasts focusing on "how to forge deep and meaningful relationships at work between women of varying races or ethnicities, with the goal of collective advancement in the workplace." Although the study found an inclusive environment to be beneficial overall to women, it concluded that "inclusive climates help black women feel supported most often when their work is independent." 
  • The study also found that many non-white women reported not being invited to social events, including lunch, or being "accidentally" kept out of information-sharing networks. Exclusion has led non-white women to feel resentment and mistrust of their co-workers, and it opens up them up to being left out of more important activities that could impact their careers, HBR said. 

Dive Insight:
The experiences of black women in the workplace could be considered among the painful challenges of D&I initiatives; organizations can have the greatest commitment and intentions only to see D&I efforts end up not serving those they were designed to help. Rather than focus exclusively on how black and Hispanic women feel, organizations may need to uncover the sources of the isolation and exclusion the women say they face.

More companies are beginning to recognize the complexity of the diversity struggle. Nearly half of the organizations surveyed in a recent Russell Reynolds Associates study had a chief diversity officer (CDO). But a CDO is not enough for diversity initiatives to succeed. Such executives also need the resources to make their initiatives a reality that can align more closely with business priorities, the study noted. 

Black women not only experience isolation and exclusion in the workplace. The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) found that black women earn just 61 cents on the dollar that white, non-Hispanic men earn. An equally sobering statistic coming out of the center's report is that black women will need to work decades to earn the same wages as men.  
Black women face greater barriers to advancement than either white men or white women. According to a Lean In report, black women have less access to management, fewer mentoring and sponsoring opportunities, and less training — resources that can prepare employees for promotions. 

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