This article is our second installment on an earlier article related to “leaky pipes,” and the promotion of women to executive ranks in major US corporations. In this article, we zero in on issues specific to women of color, and special challenges confronting black women. The report, Women in the Workplace 2017, published by McKinsey & Company in partnership with LeanIn.org, unequivocally directs attention to the challenges WOC face in advancing to the senior executive suite (C-Suite) in major corporations.
In the video below, Lareina Yee, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, says the report’s findings are most problematic for women of color, particularly black women.
In a video discussing the report’s findings, Yee says, “The finding that really stopped me in the tracks was the steep climb for women of color.” She says, “it was very hard to read that women of color are systematically less represented, less supported and given less opportunities.” The researchers also conclude that “women of color are the most ambitious but are the less likely to succeed.”
The slow and disparate advancement of WOC in corporate America is significantly attributable to the fact that WOC do not have the meaningful and regular interactions with executive leaders, a critical requirement for promotion. Specifically, the report authors note WOC are “less likely to have meaningful and regular interactions with senior leadership.” Black women have the least meaningful and regular interactions with leadership and are in fact leaving corporate America at a disturbing rate to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. These findings by McKinsey and LeanIn.org are reflected in the triple-digit growth over the last two decades in the number of businesses started and owned by black women, and WOC generally.
The American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report for 2017 reveals that during the “last 20 years, women of color have turned to entrepreneurship at an xtraordinary rate. While the number of women-owned businesses grew 114% from 1997 to 2017, firms owned by women of color grew at more than four times that rate (467%). Three segments had an even higher growth rate than the combined rate for minorities: African American (605%), Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (493%), and Latina (491%). The Asian American and Native American/Alaskan Native segments also had higher rates (314% and 201%, respectively) than the overall average.
The video to the left, The New Girl in the Office, documents the tensions associated with the first black woman taking a “white collar” secretarial job at a manufacturing plant. Produced by the President’s Committee on Government Contracts in 1960 it is a troubling reminder of the complexities associated with the intersectionality of race and gender discrimination. Almost 60 years later, the McKinsey and LeanIn.org finding are troubling, indeed.
The McKinsey/LeanIn.org report articulates some concern regarding the rate and pace in which WOC are starting their own businesses, and points to several factors contributing to these trends, including higher unemployment rates, long-term unemployment, and a much greater pay gap. The report observes that WOC “start businesses at a greater rate out of necessity and the need to survive, rather than a desire to seize a market opportunity.”