McKinsey’s 2015 study, Why Diversity Matters, states companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
Diversity and inclusion plans have become the “it” thing to help give organizations leverage over their competition. Diversity consultant and TED speaker Vern Myers once stated, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”
But it’s not working. While in many cases, the party is packed. The dance floor is still pretty homogeneous, especially for women of color. Diversity and inclusion efforts are not benefiting women of color. Here are 4 signs that diversity and inclusion aren’t working for women of color.
Sign #1. The numbers.
Based on the Department of Labor’s figures, women comprise 47 percent of the U.S. labor force but only represent 21 percent of c-suite executives. And women of color only account for 3 percent of that 21 percent of c-suite executives in the United States. On boards of directors, women of color made up just 3.8 percent.
According to Sheryl Sandberg’s Women in the Workplace 2017 findings, women represent 47 percent of entry-level employees, while men account for 52 percent. The problems start with promotion figures. Of the 52 percent of entry-level men, 63 percent of men become managers. Only 37 percent of women become managers and of that 37 percent, just 11 percent are women of color.
As men and women move up the “corporate ladder,” by the time they reach c-suite positions, these roles are filled with 79 percent male executives and only 21 percent of female executives. An even smaller 3 percent are women of color.
The difficulty here is that the classification of “women” lumps all women, including white women and all women of color, into the same category. But as shown purely by the numbers, the experience of white women and women of color is drastically different. Beginning at entry-level positions, women of color are already outnumbered and underrepresented.
Sign #2: Recruitment
With only 3 percent of women of color in positions of leadership, the absence of women of color in leadership represents a lack of recruitment opportunities.
When you have a homogeneous work environment, recruiters, hiring managers, and employees tend to look for people who fit into the existing environment— not those who stand out— making diversity recruitment a challenge.
Due to the global call for corporate diversity, for many companies —to satisfy stakeholders or in an effort to innovate and attract high revenues and profits—diversity has become a recruitment tactic. For women of color, “double minorities,” this should be a huge benefit and opportunity for employment.
Sadly, this isn’t the case. Many recruiters don’t understand the impact of race, ethnicity, and gender on the process of employment. Forbes contributor, Erik Sherman, argues that the hiring bias against Blacks and Latinos hasn’t improved in 25 years. In fact, he cites a recent meta-study from researchers at Northwestern University, Harvard, and the Institute of Social Research in Oslo, Norway, stating “Since 1989, whites receive on average 36% more callbacks than blacks and 24% more callbacks than Latinos.”
Again, to paraphrase Sherman’s assessment the implications for women of color mean: fewer callbacks mean lower chances of finding a job; fewer callbacks equal fewer offers; fewer offers equal less leverage in negotiations, and less leverage results in unequal compensation when women of color are offered the job.
So, even though some companies are increasing the quality of women of color, they aren’t necessarily creating an environment of inclusion. As a result, Christine Carter states in “We Need To Talk About Dog-Whistle Diversity,” that
… once multicultural women are onboarded, the absence of effective diversity management can make them feel subject to unconscious bias and discrimination. They begin expressing feelings of being patronized, unaccepted and tolerated. Rightfully so. For example, Black women are more likely to report feeling stalled, and to feel that their talents aren’t recognized by their superiors. The sense of ambient belonging — feeling comfortable in the workplace (accepted, valued, and included) is absent. And when an organization has a low amount of minority executives, multicultural women interpret it as an indicator of barriers to advancement.
Consequently, women of color are more likely to transition out of organizations more frequently as a result of a lack of connection, visibility, and support within companies that have not created a culture of inclusivity at all levels of the organizations.
Sign #3. Women First
Organizations that prioritize “women first” in their diversity and inclusion programs don’t benefit women of color because while women of color are also women, white women comprise 31% of the entry-level workforce while women of color only account for 17%. And the difference between white women and women of color only increases as they climb the corporate ladder. At the manager level, white women outnumber women of color by more than 50% and at the c-suite level, women of color are outnumbered by white women by more than 80%.
The stark contrast of employment and promotion opportunities—not to mention corporate inclusion initiatives—for white women as compared to women of color is a huge sign that diversity and inclusion efforts are not directly benefiting women of color.
Sign #4. The Pay Gap
The pay gap isn’t a new topic of discussion. Everyone knows that women make approximately 77 cents for every dollar a white male makes and as of 2018, that gap has closed to 79 cents per dollar. Based on Equal Pay For All 2018 figures, when you take a deeper look, you realize this statistic is only for white women. It doesn’t account for the pay gap of women of color. Black women make 63 cents for every dollar a white male makes, and Hispanic women make mere 54 cents to every dollar a white male makes. Asian-American women make 87 cents to the dollar.
As we examine diversity and inclusion, the pay gap points to a unique perspective and structural problem. By just focusing on gender, diversity and inclusion unconsciously mirror pre-existing cultural biases that only further marginalized disadvantaged populations to the benefit of advantaged groups.
Even when women of color are employed, many (if not most) diversity and inclusion programs perpetuate the cultural biases inherent in mainstream culture. White women are prioritized over all other groups. From pay to work culture and sponsorship, diversity and inclusion programs do not benefit women of color.
Oblivious or Blissfully Ignorant?
At the end of the day, corporations need to realize that diversity and inclusion isn’t just a tactic. And while white women do bring diversity into organizations dominated by white men, the level of diversity is not representative of the country. This will not help your organization achieve the innovation and revenue goals industry leaders forecast for diverse organizations.
In fact, in Deloitte’s Diversity Matter report, the two key findings from the report are:
- Gender-diverse companies are more likely to perform 15 percent better
- Ethnically-diverse companies are more likely to perform 35 percent better
Consequently, gender diversity is only the first step. True innovation and performance advancements come from not only diversity but also the inclusion and advancement of ethnically diverse groups. Women of color may be the key to corporate innovation. To get there, diversity and inclusion plans need to benefit women of color to attract and retain more women of color within their organizations.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Once companies can identify the growing chasm between white women and women of color in the workplace, organizations can begin to create new more targeted initiatives to not only attract qualified women of color but also intentionally create an environment that makes women of color not only feel comfortable and welcome but also lets them know that there are opportunities for advancement, promotion, and professional development. From here, you begin the process of inclusion and for minorities, specifically women of color, research continues to show that feeling included makes a bit of difference.