Black women and women of color have been historically erased from the workplace, and it’s no accident. For years, Black women have been pushed out of the professional arena despite typically working much harder than their white colleagues.
This year, we've seen thousands of people put their lives on the line for racial justice, but research from LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey on allyship in the workplace reflects that a majority of white employees have never even spoken out against racial discrimination at work.
Speaking out against racial discrimination is a basic act of allyship yet, only 4 in 10 white employees say they have spoken out against racial discrimination at work.
LeanIn.Org, a nonprofit organization founded in 2013, "aims to drive systemic change by helping women achieve their ambitions and working to create a more equal world," has been exploring this phenomenon. This woman-led team is dedicated to creating lasting change that can be achieved by promoting more equitable spaces.
Co-founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Co-founder and CEO Rachel Thomas, the organization has more than 47,000 Lean In Circles in over 174 countries, and new Circles are starting every day. Circles bring together women from all walks of life, with several initiatives for white allies to do their part in authentically supporting Black employees.
After gathering data, LeanIn.Org concluded that there’s a major disconnect between white employees’ perceptions and Black and Latina employees’ experiences. Especially between white women and Black women.
While many white employees believe that they’re allies, Black women and Latinas don't share the same perceptions.
More than 80% of white employees see themselves as allies, but Black women and Latinas disagree. 45% of Black women and 55% of Latinas say they have strong allies, and only 10% of Black women and 19% of Latinas say their strongest allies are white.
Meanwhile, Black women and Latinas are afraid to speak out against the racial discriminations they experience, and it shouldn’t be their responsibility to do so when they’re more likely to face retaliation that could even lead them to being fired.
It is truly irking to learn that only 10% of white women and men who’ve spoken out against racism at work have experienced retaliation, yet most white employees still don’t use their privilege to defend Black co-workers that truly need support. If there’s ever to be equality in the workplace, white employees need to use their power and privilege to advocate for people of color. That means amplifying Black and brown voices and speaking out when witnessing racism in the workplace, even if it makes them uncomfortable.
Inadequate White Allyship in The Workplace
There’s simply no excuse for white employers and employees not to establish a support system for Black women and women of color in the workplace. Between the reported experiences of Black women that have been relegated at work to the research data collected by LeanIn.Org, there is countless evidence to illustrate that there are huge issues with allyship in the workplace.
One of the largest disparities continues to be the pay wage gap. Black Women's Equal Pay Day was on August 13, but many people had no idea, which is indicative of just how erased Black women are in the professional environment.
The pay gap is just the tip of the iceberg of challenges Black women face at work. LeanIn.Org released The State of Black Women in Corporate America report, which shines a light on the barriers holding Black women back at work and outlines steps companies should take to make sure Black women are treated fairly and given equal opportunity to advance.
Co-founder and CEO, Rachel Thomas shared with me during a zoom interview what she believes is one of the central problems with allyship in the workplace.
“I don't think there's a very strong understanding of what allyship really is. The way we (LeanIn.Org) define allyship is using your power and privilege to advance or improve the privilege and power of others in underrepresented or marginalized groups.”
Thomas went on to break down what this process would look like.
“At a basic level, I think that involves a lot of self-education. I think too often all of us fall into the trap. I'm a white woman, and I have fallen into the trap of asking Black women and other women or people of color or other people from marginalized identities, how we can help or ask them to educate us. And that really puts the onus right back on the person who you're supposed to be supporting.”
She identifies the basic steps as an ongoing lifelong journey that also requires help from white people in leadership roles, so that they volunteer to be mentors or sponsors for underrepresented communities to have access to opportunities.
Thomas provided a concrete example that illustrates that very principle, saying, “I also think you (an ally) are pushing yourself to find opportunities where you literally give your seat at the table up for someone else. So, a good example of that is if you're asked to be on a panel and there aren't any Black women or women of color on the panel, you recommend a Black colleague for that slot.”
For equal pay, she reminded allies, in positions of power especially, that “it's a responsibility as a senior leader and particularly a white senior leader in an organization, because you are in such a position of privilege to use that privilege to really push for systemic change, whatever that means in your organization.”
From personal education to professional development, those claiming to be allies need to take charge and stop burdening Black and brown communities to advocate for themselves alone or be silenced by an indifferent work community.
Policies and Ideologies that Need to be Implemented
In addition to approaches toward allyship needing to be reformed, the policies and mindsets surrounding Black women and people of color need to be reevaluated immediately. According to the findings from The State of Black Women in Corporate America report from LeanIn.Org, there are key steps that need to be implemented for equitable pay and allyship.
One of the first steps is to set representation targets by gender and race combined. Only 7% of companies do this, while most aren’t setting goals around advancing Black women and marginalized communities. Companies should also track hiring and promotion outcomes by gender and race, ensuring women of color receive equal opportunities to advance.
Companies should also hold leaders accountable for progress through diversity targets in management expectations and performance reviews, and by offering rewards for success. Fewer than one in five companies offers financial incentives for senior leaders who meet diversity targets.
They should also require diverse final slates for hiring and promotions. A diverse slate includes two or more candidates from any underrepresented group. When only one woman or one Black person is included in a slate of finalists, there is statistically zero chance they will be hired, but when these candidates are included, the chance that one will be hired rises.
Also, using objective hiring and promotion rubrics helps. Evaluators need to understand the rubric and criteria for the role before the review process begins, to ensure all candidates are evaluated against the same standard. Using a quantitative rating system, such as a five-point scale, has shown to reduce bias when compared to relying on open-ended questions.
Additionally, providing comprehensive antiracism and allyship training is necessary. In addition to teaching employees to recognize sexism and racism, this training emphasizes ways that employees can practice allyship, like speaking against discrimination and advocating for opportunities for Black women colleagues.
Acknowledging the events that impact the Black community is imperative. For a workplace to feel inclusive, all employees must demonstrate awareness of events, like police brutality, that disproportionately impact the Black community. Leaders should take concrete steps to show support and ensure that Black employees have space to process their understandable anguish.
In spite of the obstacles they face, Black women are motivated to lead and support their workplaces. Black women are substantially more likely than white women, and just as likely as white men, to say that they are interested in becoming top executives. And among employees who want to be top executives, Black women are more likely than men and women overall to be motivated by a desire to positively influence company culture or to be role models for others like them.
Black women and women of color are constantly so overwhelmed by how much they are willing to give, and how much others are willing to take, that they are often falling behind professionally. It’s past time for white employees and employers to advocate for Black women to not only thrive in their jobs but get ahead in them.
Black and brown women built this nation but are still treated unjustly. While the research has revealed so much about how white people can be allies, there is still the question of just how many are willing to. Only time will tell.