Improving the Professional Experience for Women of Color

Author: Casey Gale       

It should not be news to anyone that men and women experience the workplace differently, with men holding executive positions in much higher numbers than women. Less talked about, though, are the differing workplace experiences of white women and women of color.

“Advancing All Women,” a new report published by the Network of Executive Women (NEW), details the ways in which the professional experiences of women of color — breaking it down into black, Hispanic and Latina, and Asian women — are often less favorable than the experiences of white women. This, of course, influences how long women of color stay with an organization.

“To reach their diversity and inclusion goals, companies must focus more closely on the retention and development of women of color,” the report noted. “As Intel Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Barbara Whye said, ‘We can’t hire our way to diversity.’ But if companies improve on the employee experience of women of color, they can prevent diversity from walking out the door.”

In 2017, NEW surveyed 3,600 NEW members and U.S. employees in retail and consumer goods; 486 identified as women of color. Following 12 months of research, here is what NEW suggests organizations can do to not just attract, but retain women of color long term:

1. Walk the talk. NEW suggests organizations must require every leader, including the CEO and C-suite executives, to demonstrate proactive inclusion and results. Leadership should set ambitious goals for gender equality and stick to those goals, and support sponsorship to increase women’s success in the workplace. Creating and using active business resource groups to enable innovation and problem solving is also an effective way to keep the company in an inclusive mindset, noted the report.

2. Speak up for equality. First, executives should evaluate the organization’s current culture and identify inconsistent attributes or practices that do not move the organization toward leveling the playing field. Leaders should be able to articulate the company’s business case for the empowerment of women of color and the positive impact of inclusivity. To get the entire organization on board, employees should be trained on unconscious bias. Moving forward, biases should be called out, as “silence can be construed as consent or agreement,” according to the report.

3. Implement recruitment and retention practices that are sensitive to women of color. Organizations should proactively recruit and appoint women of color to managerial and executive positions, as well as to the corporate board of directors and on selection teams. Leadership should also be sure that talent management systems are as unbiased as possible and support equality objectives. Finally, the report suggests leaders should “know the research takeaways on barriers to success for women of color.” Without understanding the obstacles, it is tough to promote the professional growth of women of color.

4. Ensure parity in all jobs at all levels of the organization. Leaders should ensure mentors and sponsors are provided for all high-potential women of color. “Mentorship is a requirement,” the NEW report said, and “sponsorship is a major advantage.” Organizations should also look to evolve the criteria used for promotions in order to include diverse leadership styles.

To download the full report, click here.