Being Black At Work

Black people lost ground when ‘of color’ became the popular thing to say. | Michael C. Bush

Stowe Boyd
Dec 9, 2019 · 3 min read
Photo by CAPITOL STANDARD on Unsplash

In Study Examines Why Black Americans Remain Scarce in Executive Suites, Lauretta Charlton reviews recent research — Being Black In Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration — conducted by a group of companies including Morgan Stanley, Pfizer and Disney.

Why this study?

The US has not fully reckoned with its legacy of racism, and conversations about race are fraught. Despite the fact that hate crimes are on the rise, half of White Americans say, “There is too much attention paid to race and racial issues in our country these days.”

The subject of race is even more of a “third rail” at work — preventing the frank exploration it merits, and allowing systems of privilege to remain in place. Representation of Black professionals in leadership still lags far behind college graduation rates.

In human resources (HR) and diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy, Black professionals are frequently conflated with all people of color, and approaches that have worked for other marginalized groups — notably White women — are often redeployed for Black professionals, despite the different challenges these groups face.

Using data to reveal the systems of prejudice that many experience, we share what it is like to be Black at work — and explore intersectional differences. Then, we explore how employers can build more equitable, inclusive cultures for Black professionals.

I’ve pasted together the headings of various sections, which is a great summary:

Black professionals are more likely than White professionals to be ambitious, yet nearly one in five feel someone of their race/ethnicity would never achieve a top job at their companies.

Black professionals see barriers to advancement that are largely invisible to White professionals. Few have access to senior leaders.

They are more likely than any other group to encounter racial prejudice at work and experience certain microaggressions at higher rates than all other professionals.

Black Millennials are frustrated.

Intersectional differences arise within all the identities explored in the full report.

Over one in three Black employees intend to leave. Black men are more likely to be interested in their own ventures.

Less than half of all professionals think their companies have effective D&I efforts.

White women are not seen as advocating for others.

That’s the state of affairs. Go read the whole thing.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to progress, according to Lauretta Charlton:

Race is still a “third rail” — an unwelcome and dangerous subject — in many corporate settings, the study says. Employee resource groups may offer a safe space for black professionals and other underrepresented groups to talk about workplace issues, the authors say, but too often that is where the conversations end.

Black employees go back to their desks feeling that the burden remains on them to make white co-workers comfortable with their presence and aware of their unique experiences, the authors say, and black employees are still asked to “offer solutions to solve their own problems.”

The study recommends that companies conduct audits of how black employees are faring and feeling, and then take steps to address “mismatches in perception of racial equality” between employees of different races. That, the authors argue, will lay the necessary groundwork for the company’s diversity and inclusion programs to be more successful.


Work Futures

Exploring critical themes of the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future

Stowe Boyd

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Work Futures

Exploring critical themes of the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future

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