The State of Women of Color in Business

The State of Women of Color in Business

Former first lady of the United States of America and INBOUND speaker alum, Michelle Obama, once said, "You may not always have a comfortable life. And you will not always be able to solve all the world’s problems all at once. But don’t ever underestimate the impact you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own." (Office of the First Lady, 2011)

Did you know that The Women's Bureau, created by the U.S. Department of Labor in 1920, is the only federal agency with the power to promote the welfare of working women? By decree of Public Law No. 66-259, the bureau was allowed to “formulate standards and policies which shall promote the welfare of wage-earning women, improve their working conditions, increase their efficiency, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment.” In 1922, The Women’s Bureau conducted studies about the working conditions of African American women in the workplace. Since then the progress of women of color in business has advanced, but not all areas are showing the same promise. Despite increasing population numbers, there are still reports of inequities.

A 2020 report by the United States Census Bureau has concluded that by 2060 women of color will be the “majority of all women'' at ~53%. In 2021, 59.2% of women identified as white, while those who identified as women of color made up the remaining. As minority populations continue to grow, so do college graduation rates. Between 2019-2020, of the total Bachelor’s degrees awarded to women U.S. citizens and permanent residents, 16.4% were hispanic, 11.3% black, 7.9% AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander), and 0.5% AIAN (American Indian and Alaska Native Resources). The Labor Force is also being impacted by women of color. In the next decade, we will see Latina and Asian women representing a larger percentage of our workforce

It’s a great feat to see the population growth of women of color, their strides in personal education, and their advancements in the workforce that should not go unnoticed. However, ignoring the areas where growth has remained stagnant is paramount. McKinsey’s 2022 Women in the Workplace report found the following results for women of color advancing in leadership positions:

  • 14% Manager
  • 10% Director/Senior Manager
  • 8% Vice President
  • 6% Senior Vice President
  • 5% C-suite
The same report, juxtaposed this against white women making better strides into leadership roles:

  • 27% Manager
  • 26% Director/Senior Manager
  • 24% VP
  • 21% C-suite

Unfortunately, women of all backgrounds are still not equally represented in the workforce with men, despite their efforts towards growth. “Women leaders are just as ambitious as men, but at many companies, they face headwinds that signal it will be harder to advance. They’re more likely to experience belittling microaggressions, such as having their judgment questioned or being mistaken for someone more junior. They’re doing more to support employee well-being and foster inclusion, but this critical work is spreading them thin and going mostly unrewarded. And finally, it’s increasingly important to women leaders that they work for companies that prioritize flexibility, employee well-being, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).” (Mckinsey, 2022)

The first black female CEO in the National Basketball Association, Cynt Marshall of the Dallas Mavericks, knows a lot about challenging the status quo when she built her first 100 day diversity & inclusion plan. “We rolled out a holistic plan so people will know it's just not about talent and workforce demographics, but it's about our customer base, our communities, our philanthropic dollars, supplier diversity, the vendors. Are we doing business with women owned businesses, minority owned businesses, veterans? ” (INBOUND, 2021)

Women must continue to advocate for themselves as a community of one. Harvard research shows that the “old boys’ club” is a reality affecting equal pay and promotions across genders. There is “power in the pack” when women nurture their relationships with other women and amplify one another along the way. Songs like Beyoncé’s Run the World (Girls) and Aretha Franklin’s Respect have served many women along the journey. However, it will take more than some of our favorite songs to keep the breakthroughs coming… but they most certainly don’t hurt.

Here are some resources to combat workplace challenges and make your organization more diverse and inclusive. Learn more from industry thought leaders at INBOUND 2023.