The Importance of Equity in the Workplace for Women of Color

importance of equity in the workplace for women of color

By now, we are all well aware that equity and representation matter in the workplace, but you’d never guess that by looking at data. Across the United States, a disproportionate number of men hold positions at the senior management level and above compared to women. When you break these numbers down even further, it’s clear that women of color are significantly underrepresented. 

This lack of equity is problematic for many reasons, especially given that by 2060 women of color will make up the majority of all women in the United States. Given this information, you’d think more companies would be diligently working towards creating a more equitable workplace today. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. As of now, women of color represent around 40% of the female population in the United States, but they only hold about 25% of all jobs at or above the senior management level. 

It’s evident that even though organizations have vowed to balance their workforce better, this rate of progress (or lack-there-of) is unacceptable. Women of color make up a significant portion of the general population and the labor force, and it’s long past time that the data across senior management reflects that. 

Where Things Stand Now

While it helps to know the general statistics of women of color in the workplace, it’s also helpful to analyze the entire picture. Unfortunately, in the case of equity in the workplace, the details aren’t better than the big picture:

  • In the United States, as of 2019, the female population was made up of 18% Hispanic and Latina women, 12.9% Black women, 5% Asian women, 0.7% Indigenous women, and 0.2% Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders
  • In 2021, companies continued to retain women of color; one-third of women of color said they planned to leave their employer in the next year due to burnout, career pivots, and or salary or benefits
  • In 2021, only 9% of women of color held senior manager/director-level jobs, 7% held VP-level positions, 5% held SVP-level jobs, and only 4% held C-level positions
  • For every $1.00 a white man makes, a white woman makes $0.79 while Hispanic and Latina women make $0.57, Black women make $0.64, multiracial Black women make $0.63, AAPI women make $0.85; in 2019, Indigenous women earned $0.60 for every $1.00 a white man-made
  • Between 2018 and 2019, a study found Black women were 58% less likely to be hired into the public sector (federal, state, and local government jobs) than white men
  • 70% of women of color report not feeling like their managers invest in their professional success 

The takeaway here is that despite women of color accounting for 40% of all women in the workforce, they are paid significantly less, promoted less, have low retention, and feel less valued than white women and men. Suffice to say, on a large scale. The workforce is far from equitable.  

📓 Read more: The power of Black women and moms in the workforce is often overlooked and undervalued – and it’s time for that to change. Discover the economic power and impact of Black Women and moms.

What Employers Can Do

It would be nice if a quick, widespread fix to this problem, but there isn’t. There is more equity and representation at all levels in the workforce. Individual companies have to promise to make changes and follow through on them. It’s an “all hands on deck” issue. 

Here are some things companies can do to start correcting the problem:

  • Provide transparency, both internally and externally, by publicly sharing workforce diversity statistics as well as future goals with progress reports
  • Establish a diversity and inclusion task force (with equal representation among members) that consults with leadership on changes to make and serves as a safe space for all employees to share thoughts, experiences, and feelings
  • Require diversity training for all managers to encourage improved and trusted relationships between them and their employees (specifically women of color)
  • Hire an outside organization to perform regular audits to help ensure pay and promotion equity
  • Offer training programs, scholarships, or tuition reimbursement for women of color who want to grow within the organization
  • Create an intentional hiring process that ensures all qualified candidates are equally considered
  • Encourage ERGs and welcome suggestions from them
  • Analyze employee retention practices, look for trends and make widespread changes based on them

To attract, retain, and promote women of color, companies need to create a culture where they feel like they belong and are being seen and heard. While making significant changes in good faith is a step in the right direction, it will serve organizations well if they consult with women of color to understand better what they need. 

What Managers & Peers Can Do

The significant organizational changes that help create a more equitable workplace have to come from the top of a company, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the employees are off the hook. To ensure better equity, everyone has to contribute.

Since so many women of color report feeling like their managers aren’t invested in their careers/success, anyone in a leadership position (whether you have three direct reports or 30) needs to be trained in diversity and inclusion. Also, it should not stop at the training—this isn’t the kind of thing that should be a quick online session that’s then checked off by HR on an annual basis. Managers need to put their training into practice and intentionally show interest in the careers of women of color. Additionally, that intentionality needs to go beyond one-on-one meetings. Managers should be advocating for women of color who may also be direct reports, whether it’s for a raise, a promotion, or taking part in a significant project. 

As for peers, advocacy and allyship are both incredibly important. In addition to feeling like their managers do not invest in them, women of color often report feeling “invisible” in the workplace. Co-workers can help change this by ensuring their peers are a part of significant events, decisions, and meetings. Also, you don’t have to be their direct manager to advocate for a woman of color to get a promotion, a raise, or a spot on a substantial project. Encourage them in meetings if people are talking over them or they’re not getting credit where they should, or walk down to your manager’s office and advocate for your co-worker by serving as a reference for a promotion. 

Like anyone else, women of color want to work somewhere where they feel valued, and that validation comes from everyone in the organization, no matter their level.

Moving Forward

The current data of women of color in the workplace is evidence of a massive problem in the United States, and it’s also an awakening that things need to change. Yes, progress takes time, but the only way it will happen is if we all have to do our parts to advocate for women of color and hold our companies accountable for creating a more equitable workplace. 

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