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Women in Business

Why the Leadership Gap is Worse for Women of Color

The statistics prove it: Women make up less than five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, and even more meagerly, there is only one woman of color at the helm, Joey Wat, CEO of Yum China.

Minimally, companies should consider implementing strategies such as proven programs for sponsorship, targeted development plans to ensure women of color have access to opportunities and working to eliminate bias in the talent management process. But most organizations are not there yet. Working Mother’s Multicultural Women’s research showed that nearly three-fourths of the women of color surveyed felt sponsorship would help their careers substantially, but they did not have access to it. Coincidentally, seven of 10 women of color would consider leaving their current jobs due to lack of opportunities and pay.

Isolation and covering

Beyond sponsorship and programs, there are cultural issues in the workplace that women of color face. Many “outsiders” or under-represented individuals feel the necessity to “cover” their true identities and adjust to the cultural norms in order to be included, acknowledged and respected. In fact, this feeling of being an outsider can impact white men as well. Think of men who don’t like sports, for example. In a corporate environment, talking sports or grabbing drinks to watch the game is a regular team-building occurrence which non-sports fans would feel alienated from. 

But women of color face dual challenges from both race and gender perspectives, and covering is more prevalent in situations where there are minimal numbers and when individuals feel isolated. Both isolation and covering impacts productivity and confidence. In other words, numbers do matter as well. Organizations that can attain at least 30 percent women/women of color will be better equipped to minimize isolation and support women of color, but they must hold themselves truly accountable.

According to an AESC research report, CEOs state that the lack of diversity and the talent war are two of their greatest challenges. Yet, according to our Diversity Best Practices Inclusion Index, less than 50 percent hold their organizations and leadership accountable for talent demographics, and less than 40 percent tie results to bonus or compensation.

Let’s not talk about the importance of diversity. Let’s make real action happen.  Change the culture. Remove the isolation. Implement proven programs. Hold ourselves accountable.

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