Despite billions spent on diversity and inclusion, new research from the Center for Talent Innovation finds that black professionals face prejudice, a lack of support from managers, and a cycle of exclusion that keeps them from the C-suite.
Corporate America needs to awaken to the challenges faced by black professionals, according to a new study published by nonprofit think tank the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI). In the workplace, black professionals are more likely to encounter prejudice and microaggressions than any other racial or ethnic group. They are less likely than their white counterparts to have access to senior leaders and to have support from their managers. Yet few white professionals see what their black colleagues are up against. Sixty-five percent of black professionals say that black employees have to work harder in order to advance, but only 16% of their white colleagues agree with that statement. Using a wealth of quantitative and qualitative data, featuring findings from a national survey, Being Black in Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration delivers a multifaceted analysis, including solutions, for creating workplace cultures where black employees can do their best work and succeed.
“Black people lost ground when ‘of color’ became the popular thing to say.” Michael C. Bush, CEO, Great Place to Work.
Pooja Jain-Link, executive vice president at CTI explains that “black professionals have a different experience in the workplace than professionals of other races. If companies want to truly engage and retain black talent, they need to be courageous and design targeted interventions that take these unique experiences into account. With this report, we are calling upon leaders to think big and start a new movement that reimagines diversity and inclusion in ways that have not been done before.”
The study finds that black professionals are more likely than white professionals to be ambitious, and they are more likely to have strong professional networks. Despite these assets, black professionals hold only 3.2% of all executive or senior leadership roles and less than 1% of all Fortune 500 CEO positions. The report lays out the systemic racial prejudice in the workplace that underpins low representation at the top, with the following findings:
- Black professionals are nearly four times as likely as white professionals to say they have experienced racial prejudice at work (58% versus 15%). Regional differences are stark: 79% of black professionals in the Midwest say they have experienced racial prejudice at work, compared to 66% of black professionals in the West, 56% in the South, and 44% in the Northeast.
- 43% of black executives have had colleagues use racially insensitive language in their presence.
- Nearly 1 in 5 (19%) black professionals feel that someone of their race/ethnicity would never achieve a top position at their companies, compared to only 3% of white professionals who feel this way.
- Black women are less likely to have access to the same support and advocacy as white women. For instance, 35% of white women have individuals in their networks who have advocated for their ideas and skills, compared to 19% of black women.
“It’s embarrassing because there are thousands of [Black] people who are just as qualified or more qualified than I am who deserve the opportunity, but haven’t been given the opportunity.” Kenneth Chenault, Former Chairman and CEO, American Express
Only 40% of all employees of all races think their companies have effective diversity and inclusion programs. Black full-time professionals are also more likely than white full-time professionals to say white women are the primary beneficiaries of diversity and inclusion efforts (29% versus 13%).
In addition, the report finds that talented black professionals are much more likely than white professionals to plan to opt out of their corporate jobs to start entrepreneurial ventures. Black professionals who have worked at both large and small companies are also more likely to find an environment of trust, respect, and a sense of belonging at small companies, compared to large companies. Corporations that wish to retain black professionals should offer the same. In addition, the report delivers a roadmap that calls upon leaders to audit their workplaces, and to create conversations that awaken white employees to the workplace prejudice that their black colleagues face.
“Study after study has shown that black executives perform as well as or better than other executives but are not advanced to the highest levels,” says Skip Spriggs, president and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council, a research partner on the report. “The roadmap offered by CTI as a result of this study could make a difference because it is rooted in intentional, results-oriented actions designed to effect measurable, positive change.”
With 2020 right around the corner, it’s sad that the conversation about black representation is still relevant. Share this report, talk about it among your friends and keep this conversation at the forefront. It’s the only way to see real change.