Black women are the most educated demographic in American society. So why are they so marginalized in corporate America? While most people have some passing understanding that women in general don’t earn as much money as men for the same work and that women are underrepresented in executive roles, the numbers are frankly quite shocking when you look at the severity of under-representation for women of color. Though women in general make up 20% of C-level executives, women of color make up only 3%, according to a recent study from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org. Simply put, women of color deserve equal opportunity in corporate America.
As a Black woman and a business owner who built a brand from scratch, I know how tough it is to succeed in the traditional corporate American setting. I’ve seen first-hand how women of color get shut out of meaningful conversations, and how decision-makers can develop strategies and initiatives without ever consulting those people to whom these products and services will be marketed. I decided to follow my path as an entrepreneur, and now my work includes helping companies engage with their customers by building authentic connections. In order to be genuinely successful, a company needs honest market research and interaction with customers.
It’s A Pervasive Problem
The disparity between Black women and other demographics in corporate America truly inhibits their success. Only one-third of Black women say their bosses go to bat for them, while more than 40% of white women feel the same way, the McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org study found. Payscale.com’s research shows that only 41.5% of Black women said their workplace offered gender equity, while that number increased to 50.1% for white women and vaulted to 74.9% for white men. AAUW research shows that gender stereotyping, a lack of networking opportunities, overt and subconscious biases, and the inflexibility of traditional leadership jobs can hold women back. Those experiences may explain some of why Black women are more likely than women in other demographics to turn to entrepreneurship to utilize their skills and talents.
Why Fixing the Problem Matters So Much
Advocating for more inclusion of Black women in executive roles makes sense. Black women are getting the education and doing the work; they have the experience to be valuable to their employer, so why is their career track so stunted?
To overlook the gifts and insights unique to Black women is a mistake. When companies make assumptions about the motivations that drive Black consumers, any success they have is merely by chance. Communities of color must be represented at every level of business. By supporting Black women now, we pave the way for the up-and-coming Black women leaders of tomorrow, too.
You Have the Power to Make Change Happen
The work is ongoing, and we each have a role to play in speaking up, even when it might be scary. I recently accepted a new position as partner, Chief Client, and Communications Officer for Solve Innovation Group. Before being hired, I had a candid conversation with Melvin Wilson, the CEO. He told me that he’s fighting for the brilliance of diversity of both thought and people to make better brands, messages, and technology to communicate with everyone — not just white, straight men. Here, in this environment that was supportive of Black women in business, I felt safe voicing my concerns about where the company could be more progressive. He heard me loud and clear, and in response, Wilson stepped up to the plate by making sure my voice would be heard throughout the firm and with clients.
This is what it’s all about: Taking Black women’s work and Black women’s voices seriously and honoring that work and those voices by making sure they have a seat at the table.
If you’d like to support these efforts, consider lending your time, talent, and financial support to 600 & Rising, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for Black talent and holding the advertising industry accountable; Black Girls Code, a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing technology education for African-American girls; and Code2040, a nonprofit striving to ensure Black and Latinx people have an equitable share of the innovation economy.
Aniesia Williams is a proven thought-leader, journalist, and digital beast. Aniesia possesses over a decade of experience across digital & experiential marketing, branding, communications, and publicity. She has worked tirelessly without losing her vision or vibrancy to reflect the voices of brands and businesses that required a courageous leader to catapult them to success. She works in the trenches of Fortune 500 companies and top non-profits to build brands from being uncertain to undeniable. She contributes and edits insightful content that influences millions of readers via the top media outlets with a global distribution like Business Insider and Black Enterprise. She rightfully takes her seat at the table to speak on the needs for diversity and inclusion in the advertising industry. And while most consider these tasks as a part of her job description as Partner, Chief Experience Officer with Solve Innovation Group, Ms. Williams has consistently shown that this is her personal and professional plight. Her efforts exceed any nine-to-five obligations. She has made it her life’s work.