Why Women of Color (including Millennials) Can’t “Lean In”

Systemic barriers prevent women of color from fully reaping the rewards of their labor.

Until the philosophy which holds one race superior
And another,
Is finally
And permanently
And abandoned -
Everywhere is war -
Me say war. — Bob Marley

Like many women, women of color are raised to think that if they only work hard and attend the best universities — they can in Beyonce’s words “run the world”. The stories of many women of color who did everything “right”, like acquiring the right degrees, getting the “right jobs”, and are still are way behind in terms of salary and title, is mind boggling.

To a large extent, these women bear the brunt of micro-aggressions in the workplace, including harassment and “over policing” from Managers. These women watch their peers soar to great heights and even though they contribute significantly (sometimes work twice as hard) there is no direct correlation with the extent of their efforts and the rewards.

From Hollywood to the world of traditional book publishing, to corporate workplaces, black women are censored. Blockbuster movies like Hidden Figures, that brings to light the significant contributions of black women who often work behind the scenes in anonymity, still represents the story of black women, decades later.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), new data around economic inequality suggest those same young women who’ve been raised to think they can “run the world” — particularly women of color — have actually fallen behind following the so-called recovery from the 2007–2009 recession.

The WEF goes on to state that: a decade after many started work and educational careers, young women are mired in joblessness, facing chronically low wages and a deep pay gap separating them from white male peers, as a new analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy and Research suggests. For black women in particular, the gender pay gap and racial wealth divide persist at a time when their communities are also facing economic and political siege.

Median Annual Earnings and Gender Earnings Ratio for Full-Time Year-Round Workers age 15 Years and Older by Race/Ethnicity, 2015 and 2016

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey. 2017. “Historical Income Tables: Full-Time, Year-Round Workers by Median Earnings and Sex: 1987 to 2016.” https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/historical-income-people.html>

Unemployment among black women aged 20 to 24 is about double that of white and Asian female counterparts, and young Latina unemployment is about a third higher than its is for white and Asian peers. During the recession, black and Latina women aged 25 to 39 suffered higher increases in joblessness than white women did. And both black and Native American women have seen among the largest declines in real wages in the last decade.

Native women were among those who saw the largest decline in wages in the last decade https://iwpr.org/publications/native-american-women-saw-the-largest-declines-in-wages-over-the-last-decade-among-all-women/ …#NativeWomenEqualPay

Institutional Barriers Persist

Until institutional forces shift, young women of color starting out in the labor force will continue to run into invisible barriers, like systemic job discrimination, along with the same obstacles all young workers face, including higher education costs, weakening labor unions and eroding job security. And young women of color face a steeper climb up and have less to fall back on than their more privileged peers.

Implicit bias in the hiring system, as well as on selection boards that lack diversity hurt black women’s chances of promotion. Immigrant women of color who speak differently, come from different cultural settings and have different experiences growing up are seen as “second class”. Diversity committees in the workplace, that are rarely headed by a minority (because it has be led by an Executive and there are no minority Executives in place), only serve to reinforce the status quo.

“Creative solutions” to dealing with the problem of diversity in the workplace only center on hiring students just graduating from University. While this should be a part of any framework for diversity — it is largely an exclusionary policy — that ignores the current employees in the system and makes no attempt to rectify the current situation. Furthermore, these employees become stuck in a system that was never meant to foster their upward movement or harness their creative abilities.

What is the Future for Women of Color?

There needs to be a comprehensive framework in place with effective measures. These include effective mentorship, supports for comprehensive child care, expanded labor protections and unions that enable collective bargaining and strengthen job security to help anchor workers with secure, family-sustaining careers.

Employers need to be held accountable for wage discrimination and abuse at work. The economic recession was not simply a cyclical or market-driven phenomenon for black communities, but a manifestation of a legacy of institutionalized racism.

For each year of income stagnation or uptick in the already unsustainable unemployment rate; every decline in generational black wealth; every delayed college degree; the crisis of race and labor requires not just a market correction, but a full-scale societal reckoning — to restore the dignity of young workers in every community and uphold racial justice for future generations. — World Economic Forum.

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