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Black Women’s Equal Pay Day And The State Of The Black Women In Corporate America

Posted by Dominique Fluker

Content Marketing Manager, Editorial

Last Updated August 3, 2021
|5 min read

Today is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day—but the inequality that Black women face in the workplace goes far beyond pay.  On average, Black women make 38% less than white men and 21% less than white women. The pay gap is not about just one single paycheck. Over the course of the average Black woman’s career, she'll earn almost a million dollars less than a white man in a similar role. This has a huge impact on Black women’s families and their ability to invest in savings, higher education, and/or property.⁠

The pay gap ultimately widens the wealth gap: how much Black women are worth or own. The average Black woman’s net worth is less than 1% of the average white man’s.⁠ Lean In’s new report provides an in-depth look at the barriers holding Black women back at work and outlines specific steps for companies to take action. Their report offers a detailed look at the barriers holding Black women back at work. It also outlines specific steps companies should take to make sure Black women are treated fairly and given equal opportunities to learn, grow, and lead.

Read below to learn from LeanIn’s The State of Black Women in the Workplace report to see what many Black women are up against in the workplace and what your organization can do to close the pay and equity gap. 

Black women are significantly underrepresented in leadership roles. 

Black women are underrepresented in the workplace for many reasons. One big factor is a “broken rung” at the first critical step up to the manager position. For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 58 Black women are promoted, despite the fact that Black women ask for promotions at the same rate as men.1 And for every 100 men hired into manager roles, only 64 Black women are hired. That means there are fewer Black women to promote at every subsequent level, and the representation gap keeps getting wider.

Black women’s successes are often discounted.

When a Black woman succeeds, people often attribute her accomplishments to factors outside her control—such as affirmative action, help from others, or random chance. For example, colleagues might say things like “She only got the promotion because she’s Black” or “She was lucky to close that sale.” This reinforces a damaging stereotype that portrays Black women as less talented and competent than their peers. When these comments go unchallenged, they can prevent Black women from receiving the credit they deserve for their hard work and achievements.

Black women are less likely to get the support and access they need to advance. 

Women of color, and Black women, in particular, tend to receive less support and encouragement from their managers. Compared to white women, Black women are less likely to have managers showcase their work, advocate for new opportunities for them, or give them opportunities to manage people and projects. Black women are also less likely to report that their manager helps them navigate organizational politics or balance work and personal life. This matters—employees who have consistent manager support are more likely to be promoted, and they’re also more likely to believe that they have an equal opportunity to advance. 

Aside from these key factors, Black women also have difficulties receiving the proper visibility amongst key stakeholders, senior leadership, all while stomaching microaggressions and day-to-day discrimination at work. Another hurdle is being the “Only” within the workplace. 

Fifty-four percent of Black women say they are often “Onlys,” in that they are the only Black person or one of the only Black people in the room at work. Black women who are Onlys are having an especially difficult experience. They are very aware of the fact that they may be seen as representatives of their race, and they are more likely than Onlys of other racial and ethnic groups to feel as though their individual successes and failures will reflect on people like them. This leads to a sense that they are constantly under scrutiny: Black women who are Onlys often report feeling closely watched, on guard, and under increased pressure to perform. 

To support black women companies need to focus on the unique barriers they face. Many corporate diversity efforts focus on either gender or race. But very few focus on gender and race combined. That means Black women and other women of color, who face a uniquely challenging combination of sexism and racism, are often overlooked. Companies need to commit to addressing the specific barriers that are holding Black women back. That starts with letting everyone know that the company will be prioritizing Black women’s advancement, and explaining why: Not only is it the right and just thing to do, but it’s also good for business—research shows diverse companies are more innovative and profitable. Companies should also set representation targets for Black women, track and share progress toward these goals, and reward success. Experts agree that clear goals, consistent measurement, and accountability are the building blocks for any organizational change.

According to Lean In, companies need to take these 4 steps to support their Black women employees: 

Take both gender and race into account when setting representation targets. 

Only 7 percent of companies set representation targets for gender and race combined, which means too many companies aren’t setting specific goals around advancing Black women. In addition to setting targets, companies should track hiring and promotion outcomes for women of color to make sure they’re getting equal opportunities to advance. This is especially important at the first step up to manager—the “broken rung”—where many Black women are left behind.

Look at metrics beyond just representation. 

Mentorship, sponsorship, and professional development opportunities also have a big impact on Black women’s advancement and experiences at work. If Black women aren’t getting access to those things, figure out why, and take steps to make these programs more inclusive.

Share metrics. 

Giving employees visibility into how the company is performing against diversity goals can help everyone understand why proactive efforts to advance Black women are so important. Sharing key metrics on a regular basis can also foster a valuable sense of organization-wide accountability. But right now, fewer than half of companies share at least some diversity metrics with their employees.

Reward progress. 

Currently, fewer than 1 in 5 companies offer financial incentives for senior leaders who meet diversity targets. This is a signal that many companies aren’t as committed as they could be; what gets rewarded is typically what gets done. Companies need to hold leaders and managers accountable for meeting diversity goals, which means incorporating those goals into management expectations and performance reviews.

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