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  • Writer's pictureNICOLETTE STENGER

Part 1 Equity in Action: Facilitating Growth and Accessibility for Black Women in Professional Spaces

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

A Black History Month blog series, authored by a white leader for white leadership,

dedicated to dismantling systemic barriers and cultivating an environment where Black women can autonomously excel.

Part 1: Unveiling Systemic Barriers

As we embark on this series, we delve into the profound and systemic challenges Black women face professionally. Drawing on insights from recent events and comprehensive studies, we aim to highlight the challenges stemming from systemic racism, corporate practices, and the intersectionality of gender and race that affect Black women's career paths.

My motivation to write this blog series arises from recognizing the unique platform I hold as a white leader and the need for us to play a crucial role in dismantling the very systems from which we benefit. Inspired by Black voices advocating for a narrative that champions resilience and future possibilities, I believe it's crucial for those of us in positions of influence to actively participate in anti-racist efforts and contribute to a future where equity is not just an ideal but a reality. Black History Month serves as a poignant backdrop for this journey, offering a moment to reflect on historical inequalities, recognize the current landscape of injustice, and take meaningful steps toward an equitable future.

Systemic Barriers impeding Black Women in the Professional Realm 

The professional journey for Black women is fraught with obstacles often invisible to their counterparts. By analyzing the latest research and firsthand accounts, we shed light on the disparate impacts of challenges such as the pandemic, underrepresentation in the workforce, barriers to career advancement, wage disparities, and the compounded effects of gender and race.

Recent studies, such as the one conducted by Elizabeth Linos, Sanaz Mobasseri, and Nina Roussille, highlight a concerning trend: when Black women work in predominantly white teams, they may experience worse job outcomes compared to their white counterparts. Factors such as interaction with majority white coworkers, task assignments, and performance evaluations can lead to Black women being labeled as low performers, resulting in higher turnover rates.

The pandemic has also disproportionately affected Black women in the workforce, leading to higher rates of unemployment and job insecurity. This issue is exacerbated by the "broken rung" phenomenon, where Black women are kept from entry-level management jobs, hindering their progression to higher levels of leadership and significantly impacting promotion rates compared to men and white women.

Moreover, Black women face substantial hurdles in achieving leadership roles, especially those with childcare responsibilities, hindered by corporate reductions and paused diversity efforts. Pay inequity remains a persistent issue, with long-term impacts on financial stability and economic empowerment.

Recognizing the complexity of intersectionality is crucial in addressing these challenges effectively. A nuanced understanding of how gender and race interplay in these experiences is essential for crafting targeted interventions.

White Leadership Dismantling Barriers

The responsibility of white leaders in this context is not to empower but to acknowledge and dismantle the systemic barriers that limit the professional growth of Black women. This includes critically examining our own biases, the structures of power within our organizations, and how our actions or inactions perpetuate inequity. 

Organizational policies that offer valuable tools for combating systemic inequities include prohibitions on salary history inquiries and salary transparency. As leaders, we must address immediate barriers and foster an inclusive culture that supports the long-term success and growth of Black women. 

This means taking deliberate actions to remove obstacles to their professional advancement. We need to reevaluate hiring practices, compensation, promotion criteria, and how we support professional development and mentorship for Black women.

Commitment to Ongoing Engagement

As we continue this series, we will explore practical steps, strategies, and reflections on creating equitable workplaces. Our focus is on the role of white leaders in challenging and dismantling systemic racism to foster a culture of true inclusion and belonging for Black women.

Stay tuned as we navigate this journey together, learning, growing, and taking action to ensure that our workplaces reflect the equity and justice that all employees deserve.

References and recommended reading:

When Black Women Work in Whiter Teams, They May Have Worse Job Outcomes, by Nora Delaney, November 08, 2023.

The Perfect Storm: Keeping Women of Colour Behind at Work, by Josie Cox, March 01, 2023

The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter. (New York: Norton, 2010. xiv, 496 pp., isbn 978-0-393-04934-3.)


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