As we celebrate the last day of Black Women’s History Week, it is important to recognize the continued struggles Black women face in the workplace. According to research from the Lean In Foundation, Black women are less likely to be promoted to manager. For every 100 men promoted, only 58 Black women are promoted, despite the fact that Black women ask for promotions at the same rate as men. They also face more day to day discrimination, and experience more racial trauma than their peers. Therefore, leaders need to recognize that the status quo as it pertains to the experience of Black women at work is unacceptable. In order for Black women to thrive, companies must pursue the following to help them in their career journey:

  1. Immediately close the pay gap – in 2020, Black women earned $.64 to every dollar earned by their White male counterparts. According to a report by the Center for American Progress, Black women lose $964,400 over a 40 year career due to this pay gap. While this number may not seem significant to some, it can represent generational wealth for others. Therefore, companies must do the work of closing the pay gap immediately, and not use excuses of how complex or challenging it may be to avoid doing so.
  2. Assign supportive, competent managers to sponsor Black women – according to research from the Lean In Foundation in 2020, compared to white women, Black women are less likely to have managers showcase their work, advocate for new opportunities for them, or give them opportunities to manage people and projects. They are also often assigned to managers who lack influence within the organizations and may have poor job security, hindering their ability to adequately support their Black women direct reports. Further, less than a quarter of Black women feel they have the sponsorship they need to advance their career. Therefore, organizations should assign competent managers to appropriately support Black women, amplifying their skills and work, to position them for greater visibility and rapid advancement.
  3. Acknowledge and have zero tolerance for the mistreatment of Black women and cease gaslighting them – Black women are constantly subject to gaslighting, where their experiences are made to feel invalid or not real. Senior leaders and managers need to understand the unique challenges Black women face, listen to their needs, have zero tolerance for their mistreatment, and stop gaslighting them by denying the systemic issues which keep them from being successful and safe at work.
  4. Provide effective advancement coaching to Black women – although it is difficult to find data about the exact percentage of Black women who receive coaching on an annual basis, anecdotally it seems that it is rare, and when it does occur, it is more as a tool for remediation, rather than as one for growth. Companies need to invest robust resources in coaching for Black women, as a means to assist in their career management and advancement. Such coaching should be from culturally competent coaches, not ones who will simply tell Black women to work harder, and who will not acknowledge their challenging circumstances. Unfortunately, I have heard too many stories of internal coaches who have proven to be more harmful than helpful to Black women, and as a result, have caused them to shy away from seeking coaching support.
  5. Invest in training to decrease the microaggressions, racism, misogyny, and other forms of bias perpetrated against Black women and to educate leaders about racial trauma & psychological safety – the workplace needs to be a lot less hostile to Black women. From comments related to the professionalism of their hair to calling them “angry” or telling them to smile more, Black women face many racial and gender micro-aggressions on a daily basis. Training to help leaders recognize how both systems and individuals micro-aggress Black women, as well as information about the impact of racial trauma on Black women, and the importance of psychological safety can make the workplace more welcoming for them.
  6. Ensure that Black women are able to recover from burnout – according to a report by Every Level Leadership, 88% of Black women say they have experienced burnout. And in addition to typical work factors which contribute to burnout (e.g. overwork, unclear priorities, toxic workplace), Black women also face unique stressors such as racial trauma, feeling the need to code-switch, and avoiding discussions of anti-blackness or race. Companies must recognize the factors which contribute to the high rate of burnout for Black women, and develop interventions to reduce it, and to improve recovery.

As Black Women’s History Week concludes, it is clear that Black women should be celebrated not only on a weekly or monthly basis, but every day. However, in order for this to occur, organizations, whether they are corporate or nonprofit or government or academic institutions, must do a much better job of supporting Black women, and by following the above recommendations, the workplace can become a place where Black women can thrive and shine, rather than simply survive.