how to encourage female leaders of colour.

Despite increased access to leadership roles and a decreasing pay gap, women still have hurdles to overcome. This is especially true for women of colour. Needless to say, understanding intersectionality has never been more important.

At the leadership level, the numbers speak for themselves. According to a 2019 study by McKinsey, about 1 in 5 American women hold a C-Suite position, but this number drops to 1 in 25 for racialized women. Although the proportion of women in executive roles has slightly increased over the 5 years that McKinsey has published this annual study, women of colour haven’t experienced the same progress.

To tackle the issue of underrepresentation, it’s critical to be aware of the unique challenges that racialized women face in the workplace and focus on the reasons behind them .

how to encourage female leaders of colour

why is the gap still so significant?

The answer, in fact, is relatively simple. Even if women graduate from university at a higher rate than men, discrimantion toward women is prevalent and they get hired for entry level jobs at a much lower rate. As a result, at each level of career progression, female representation decreases. 

Discimination against women of colour is two-fold. Although they graduate at the same rate or higher than their white counterparts, racialized women are even less likely to accede to entry level positions and therefore face a greater decline in representation in senior roles. 

According to McKinsey's study, moving into a managerial position is the biggest obstacle women face  on the path to leadership. For every 100 men promoted at this level, only 58 Black women and 68 Latin American women are promoted. Unfortunately, these proportions continue to decrease as we move up the ladder.  

This means that racialized women face even greater challenges than white women and a more complicated journey to leadership, marked by less support from leaders and a lower promotion rate (less than 5%). 

Without fundamental changes, achieving any form of improvement is extremely difficult.

what solutions do we need to consider?

awareness

Before thinking about implementing solutions, employees need to realize how issues of inequality affect women, and how much more significant this is for women of colour. In fact, men and women tend to have different perceptions of inequality in the workplace and the efforts to promote gender diversity. Since men face fewer gender-based hurdles, they tend to wrongly perceive the workplace as fair and balanced, while women are more aware of the disparities.  It is therefore important to start by raising awareness among male workers by highlighting these differences to them, with concrete examples and supporting data, to illustrate how things actually are. 

engaging senior management

Commitment to diversity and inclusion from senior management is a prerequisite for change. After all, they are the ones who set the company's strategic direction. If diversity is one of their priorities, this will have a domino effect on the rest of the organization and help develop an inclusive corporate culture for all employees. As a result, respect for racialized women will increase, allowing them greater access to the same opportunities as their colleagues. A company that promotes diversity inevitably attracts more female candidates from diverse backgrounds.

a personalized approach

Because women of colour face a variety of specific challenges, a solution targeting all women is unlikely to be effective. Instead,  a personalized approach focused on intersectionality is needed. Black women are more likely to report that they never have contact with senior managers in their companies, which can directly impact their opportunities for advancement. There is definitely a need to create more opportunities for meetings and interactions between these groups. Managers have a role to play and can help strengthen professional relationships by providing meaningful opportunities for employees to interact with leaders. 

allyship

Women who succeed in leadership positions can be natural allies for other women and amplify their voices. The structures in place should enable women to act as champions for female solidarity. Companies are called upon to play an active role in promoting a multitude of different women's experiences, especially those that are not often heard. It is essential that women in the workplace be able to count on role models that resemble them and reflect their reality, without which it can be difficult to see themselves succeed

inclusive HR practices

Organizations can implement processes that reinforce inclusive behaviours and approaches, in order to make equality a natural part of the workplace. Knowing that women of colour are doubly discriminated against in their job search, removing all personal information from resumes allows for an unbiased hiring process.  Another good practice is to educate hiring managers on the importance of prioritizing diverse experiences and perspectives when considering candidates for hiring, promotion and leadership opportunities. Implementing these practices helps to make inclusion intuitive and effortless. 

tackling the problem from the ground up

Many organizations focus on promoting diversity mainly at the executive level. However, companies should also initiate change at the root of the problem: the first level of management. Setting targets to help more women of colour reach top management positions can address the issue earlier in their career progression. Similarly, ensuring access to entry level jobs gives racialized women more opportunity to grow into management and executive positions. 

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