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Why Black Women Are Still Denied Top Slots In Corporate America

The racial reckoning that followed the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 brought in a slew of pledges of diversity initiatives from major corporations. Despite this, Black women are still being denied top slots at some of the country’s largest companies. White men remain nearly eight times as likely as Black women to be executives in corporate America.

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Photo by Mikhail Nilov: https://www.pexels.com/photo/portrait-of-a-woman-with-a-black-wristwatch-8872694/

And white women are 4.5 times more likely than Black women to hold a leadership position, according to a recent USA Today investigation of hundreds of top companies, according to the analysis, which drew on the latest reports of employee demographics at 287 of the nation’s 500 biggest companies provided by data firm DiversIQ.

Of the S&P 500 companies reviewed by USA Today, only 10 out of 287 had the same percentage of Black women in the executive suite as there are in the nation’s overall workforce. And just 33 had a share of Black women executives that matched the diversity of their overall employment ranks.

There are only two Black women running S&P 500 companies. One is Rosalind Brewer, CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance, a holding company that owns the retail pharmacy chains Walgreens and Boots, The second is Thasunda Brown Duckett, who is CEO of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA). TIAA is a provider of insurance and retirement-savings accounts, especially to people working in academia, education, and state and local government.

The lack of Black women in corner offices isn’t anything new. The corporate careers of Black women have long been plagued by discrimination, from the harmful stereotypes such as the “angry Black woman” to a lack of much-needed mentorship.

Here are some of the key findings from the USA Today analysis:

  • White women are 4.5 times more likely than Black women to hold a leadership position.
  • White men are almost 8 times as likely as Black women to be an executive.Black men are twice as likely as Black women to hold these leadership roles. 
  • Black women remain overrepresented in lower-level positions such as administrative support, labor, and customer service.
  • Black women often find their careers stalled in middle management. White women are twice as likely and white men three times as likely as Black women to get promoted into corporate leadership. 

“People only recently really started paying attention to the underlying reasons why Black women are not able to break into executive teams and boardrooms,” Evelyn Carter, president of diversity firm Paradigm, told USA Today.

If the hiring of Black female executives continues at the current rate, it could take 40 years to close the leadership gap, USA Today’s analysis found. 

In order for Black women to hold a percentage of executive jobs equal to their share of the U.S. workforce, their numbers would have to increase drastically from about 1,500 today to nearly 4,600 at the 287 companies reviewed by USA Today. But from 2019 to 2020 the ranks of Black women executives went up by just 80. 

“We have, in most cases, found a way to persist, to be just as successful, to carve out spaces for ourselves, and to really thrive. And we do all of that in the face of bias, in the face of racism and sexism, in the face of people’s stereotypes and expectations,” Carter said. “Think about what power you would unlock if you stopped putting all of these headwinds in front of Black women.”

According to Bell Smith, a professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, there are several factors behind this lack fo Black women in the executive suites.

“Corporations don’t know how to deal with the intersection of race and gender,” she said. “When you have two oppressive mechanisms, what happens is it can keep you really locked in at the bottom. Men don’t have that intersection, and women do. And Black women are paying the price for it.”

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