US business leaders should set targets for recruiting and promoting Black women to tackle a persistent dearth of them in top jobs, a women’s equality group said on Thursday.
Black women are just as likely as white men to be interested in becoming top executives, but are held back by discrimination and a lack of support, said LeanIn.Org in a report released on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day.
They make up 7.4% of the population, but hold just 1.4% of executive positions in the United States, it said, calling for their advancement to be a stated business priority backed with financial incentives for senior leaders.
“Very few companies are tracking representation and setting targets looking at both gender and race,” chief executive Rachel Thomas told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“What that means is women of color are overlooked or left out.”
Women from ethnic minorities were found to face a lack of mentorship and connections as well as discrimination over their abilities that leaves them struggling to progress, with Black women the worst-affected group.
They were less likely to be given chances to showcase their work, opportunities for managerial roles, or help in managing their career path, researchers found.
Black women were also significantly more likely to say they felt closely scrutinised at work, to have a colleague express surprise at their language skills or other abilities, or to feel they had to prove their competence.
While many firms have gender and race diversity targets, less than one in 10 aim specifically to increase representation of Black and other racial minority women, the report said.
“If a business determines that targets are what they need to succeed in building or enhancing a culture of inclusion … then targets are one way to go about it,” said Dnika Travis, vice-president of research at workplace inclusion organisation Catalyst.
The report also found money was less of a driver for Black women to seek leadership positions than for white women.
Instead, they were more likely to want to be a role model for others like them, or to influence the culture of their workplace.
Yasmeen Hassan, global director of women’s rights organisation Equality Now, said the disproportionate economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on women and minorities had highlighted the need for change.
“If there is any silver lining to the pandemic, then it is that the disruption in ’business as usual’ has forced companies to reflect on existing practices and ways of working,” she said by email.