Even When Companies Strive for Inclusion, Women of Color Can Feel Left Out
Advocating for Women of Color
In my work, I spend the bulk of my time focusing on helping men become better advocates for women. Our discussions focus on workplace culture, accountability and the need for visible and vocal advocacy. While my work focuses primarily on gender, it is impossible to talk about gender without also recognizing all additional dimensions of diversity such as race, sexual orientation and ethnicity to name a few. When working with men, I will use gender as a “gateway” to talk about these other dimensions and intersections. Unfortunately, some white men (and white women) are not ready to talk about gender, let alone a deeper dimension of diversity such as race – and specifically women of color. We have to resolve this dilemma for real progress for all women to be made.
Simply put, we need more women (white and women of color) to be in the talent pipeline. Yet, all women continue to be underrepresented at every level in organizations. To advance all women in the workplace, we need to take a look at the pipeline and what is happening within our workgroups and culture.
McKinsey noted in their 2019 Women in the Workplace report that when done right, efforts to hire and promote more diverse candidates and create a strong corporate culture reinforce each other. A more diverse workforce will naturally lead to a more inclusive culture. And when a company’s culture feels fair and inclusive, women and underrepresented groups are happier and more likely to thrive.
In their Harvard Business Review article, Even at “Inclusive” Companies, Women of Color Don’t Feel Supported, Beth A. Livingston and Tina R. Opie looked at understanding high-quality connections and inclusive workplaces. The researchers found that black and Hispanic women may be unwilling to take the risk of being emotionally vulnerable — a trait needed to build a “shared sisterhood” — with white women when they are working together on highly interdependent tasks. That idea of shared sisterhood is necessary to “forge deep and meaningful relationships at work between women of varying races or ethnicities, with the goal of collective advancement in the workplace.”
They go on to write, “You can’t build meaningful connections between women of different races and ethnicities, let alone ask them to advocate for their collective advancement, if black and Hispanic women report being excluded from the relationships required to make an organization run.”
Recently I spoke with Monica McCoy, founder of Monica Motivates, for her insights on how to build a “shared sisterhood” and create inclusive and meaningful relationships at work. A former Acting Global Director of Strategy and Innovation for The Coca-Cola Company, McCoy left to pursue her own dreams in 2017, after 15 successful years. Now her business focus is helping individuals identify their purpose and passion while showing them how to best leverage their newly found knowledge for the benefit of their companies and themselves.
Do you think men and women are having different experiences at work? If so, please share a pivotal experience.
I believe that men and women do have different experiences at work. We can start by examining the data. According to the latest data from Fortune, only 6.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. When we break this data down to African-American women, there are currently not any African-American female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. From the moment that a woman starts her career, she is at a competitive disadvantage from the perspective of both the path to C-Suite and lifetime wage earnings. Women earned 81.1 percent of what men earned in 2018, while African-American women earned 52.3 percent of what their white male counterparts earned. I want you to take a moment and let this sink in. Even if you bring the credentials and experience and also achieve great business results, the wage gap continues to widen. The impact that this has on culture, morale and the pipeline of the best talent for corporations continues to be a top issue for leadership. Imagine starting a race knowing that from the moment you begin, you are 250 laps behind your competition. This is the experience of women of color in Corporate America. It leads to a lack of access to long-term incentives (i.e. stock options, deferred compensation, etc.) and ultimately impacts generational wealth.
When I realized over my 15-year corporate career that the industry data was not changing in a statistically significant way, I knew that there was work that I needed to do outside of Corporate America to have a greater impact on the landscape.
The beautiful thing is that there are many resources in place to continue to change this narrative. I was honored to serve on the board of The Coca-Cola Company’s women’s LINC organization during my corporate career where the Company invested in more than 1,000 associates to attend a day-long leadership conference for advancing women in the workplace.
What’s been your experience in forging a “shared sisterhood” at work?
Let’s discuss this from the perspective of intent versus impact. I do think that when initiatives are launched at corporations, the intention is to be inclusive. Unfortunately, the results show a different story. Traditionally, initiatives focused on women’s advancement in the workplace are designed to benefit the majority and not underrepresented corporate professionals. It’s celebrated each year when there is an increase in the number of female CEOs in the C-Suite, but the other part of the story is that women of color are not seeing the same levels of advancement. We celebrate Ursula Burns for being the first African-American CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. Unfortunately, we do not have a sustainable pipeline for African-American, Latina, and underrepresented corporate leaders to follow her path into the C-Suite.
The ‘shared sisterhood’ is built on a foundation that is unstable. The crack in the foundation is that goals must be inclusive and make it possible for all women to have access to upward mobility to the C-Suite. It is imperative that movements are not ignoring the experiences of minority professionals.
The fact is that a true ‘shared sisterhood’ is important to both short and long-term business results. According to Catalyst, boards that had three women or more experienced better financial performance. Although we are not where we want from a metrics perspective, we celebrate Fortune 500 organizations that have gender diversity on their board of directors.
Would you describe the feeling of being “the only one” or of counting representation in a meeting?
Once you get to the Director level or above in Corporate America, you begin to notice that there is a glaring lack of diversity in meetings. I always used this to leverage the opportunity to bring a unique perspective to the meeting. In addition, when there was one other woman in the room, I would not allow her to be spoken over, but instead, repeat what she said so that the entire room could hear her voice.
My solution to this is to continue to create ‘new more inclusive tables’ and bring additional seats of diverse voices and perspectives to the table. Building more inclusive tables is going to be critical for organizations to be around in the next 100 years as future generations will be holding organizations accountable for both diversity and social impact.
What tips would you offer to managers who are striving to create inclusive workgroups?
You won’t be able to change the culture overnight. The key is to take it one small step at a time. Start by putting together a strategy and working to sponsor at least one talented female leader. Achieve that one goal by ensuring that when calibration sessions are held, that you speak up for the leader who needs to have an advocate to propel her to the next level.
Educate your female associates about the concept of PIE (Performance, Image, Exposure). When it comes to Harvey Coleman’s concept of PIE, performance accounts for 10 percent of long-term success, image accounts for 30 percent, and exposure accounts for 60 percent. Most African-American women are remaining in roles where they are the worker bees or performers and not being given opportunities to gain exposure on roles that lead to the C-Suite such as running business units. Why is this? The purpose is not to only state the problems, but to advocate for those who want to bring solutions to the table. It is critical for managers to see how having this paradigm shift will lead to better engagement, better business results, and overall more inclusive workplaces. I commend organizations that are committed to empowering their leaders to be change champions by investing in educating people leaders, modeling diversity and inclusion, and finally implementing growth strategies to build sustainable long-term results.
Finally, I challenge leaders to get out of their comfort zones and stay in their growth zones when it comes to advocating for a more inclusive workplace. Have authentic conversations, attend events where you are the minority and open doors to give access, including teaching negotiation, executive presence and the power of influence to have and keep a seat at the table.
How do all women advance in the workplace?
In summary, as the Harvard Business Review article focuses on wide organizational challenges and issues, these key points must be understood by men in the organization if we are going to help drive long-term systemic change for all women.
As we take time to celebrate Black History Month, we have an opportunity to have an even deeper discussion regarding the advancement of women of color and ask the question: How do all women advance in the workplace? In an environment that needs more advocacy, how can we talk about the barriers that prevent or slow down the efforts of women of different races to advance? Let’s take Monica’s advice to create a growth zone and advocate for more inclusive workplaces, authentic conversations and opening doors for everyone.
Thank you to Monica McCoy for sharing her insights. You can find her on Twitter @MonicaMotivates or on Facebook sharing insights to help leaders transition from being mere spectators to pursuing their dreams and becoming active participants in having fulfilling, successful personal and professional lives.
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Jeffery Tobias Halter is president of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women’s leadership advancement. Founder of the Father of Daughter Initiative, creator of the Gender Conversation QuickStarters Newsletter and the Male Advocacy Profile, Jeffery is former director of diversity strategy for The Coca-Cola Company and is the author of two books, WHY WOMEN, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men and Selling to Men, Selling to Women.