Op-ed: Workplace-equity efforts for women of color must be intentional

Boston Business Journal
By Andrea Silbert and Beth Chandler
June 4, 2021

Our largest employers have a long way to go in reaching gender, racial and ethnic parity. And while progress for white women and men of color is slow and staggered, it is virtually nonexistent for women of color. Need proof? Let’s look at the numbers: 

As of January 2021, there were zero women of color leading the nation’s Fortune 500 companies. Black women hold 1.6% and 1.4% of VP and C-suite positions, respectively, compared to 57% and 68% held by white men (even though Black women comprise 7.4% of the U.S. population and white men 35%).

A recent Eos Foundation study of our nation’s 130 largest research universities found that while women comprised only 24% of their most highly compensated employees, women of color were grossly underrepresented, at less than 2.5% of the total top earners. Our 2020 study of Massachusetts’ largest public companies found that women of color represented only 3% of executive team members and 6% of board members.

Where are the women of color?  

The lack of diversity among our nation’s top executives is a systemic problem — and not due to empty pipelines. Consequently, it shouldn’t be solved by more leadership-training programs for women, which don’t tackle the systemic barriers. In higher education, for instance, women have been earning the majority of bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D.s for years, but still aren’t making it to the top in proportion to their representation in the higher ed workforce. So how do we fix it? Here’s a start: 

Utilize intersectional data 

Leading corporations are doing a good job of tracking and reporting gender, race and ethnicity of their workforce. That’s fine in the aggregate, but it’s much more useful to drill a little deeper: How many Black women are executive vice presidents? How many Asian women are in the C-suite? How many Hispanic women were promoted to the executive leadership team? We need this intersectional data and once we have it, tie that data and managerial compensation to diversify outcomes. 

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