- Inequality has infiltrated nearly every aspect of society, but among some of the most glaring problems Black folks face has been their experience in the workplace.
- A McKinsey report actually revealed that companies with better representation of minorities typically outperform their competitors.
- Without creating more opportunities for Black talent to thrive, companies will suffer from lack of innovation and creativity, two factors that are necessary in order to flourish in the future of work.
After years of virtue signaling and claiming to value diversity, the world’s largest companies are trying to start making meaningful changes to address disparities within their workforce.
Corporations spent much of 2020 “woke washing” their brand to appear socially aware to societal issues that relate to Black citizens. However, research shows that these veiled attempts at addressing discrimination do not go far enough to resolve internal problems.
Representation has undoubtedly gained traction in recent years as non-Black people faced a rude awakening during the massive Black Lives Matters protests in the summer of 2020. As a result, a new era of understanding has emerged.
Businesses large and small stood in solidarity with Black citizens, finally recognizing the message that they have been preaching for hundreds of years: Our lives are not viewed or treated as equal.
This inequality has infiltrated nearly every aspect of society, but among some of the most glaring problems Black folks face has been their experience in the workplace.
Why The Workplace Black Experience Is Struggling
In April of 2021, McKinsey released a report highlighted factors that impact the Black experience at work, and what can be done to create more opportunities. These included:
- Disconnect between geographical location and job opportunities
- Disproportionate unemployment rates within the Black community
- Lack of representation within fast-growing and high paying industries that are shaping the future of work, such as technology
- Limited career advancements opportunities for Black workers
- A short supply of Black allyship from leaders and management
This is all to say, there needs to be more effort on both ends of a company’s hierarchical structure in order to help Black talent to succeed.
“While healthcare is a growth industry, almost half of all Black US healthcare workers in 2019—941,000—were service workers, while fewer than 500,000 were executives, managers, and professionals,” the report said.
According to a recent USA Today analysis of 83 companies in the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) stock index, the lack of Black representation in leadership roles permeates throughout most industries.
In fact, despite Black workers making up 11.2% of the US workforce, USA Today found just a few companies whose demographics reflect this population. Here are the percentages of Black executives within those companies:
- 20.3% at UPS
- 13.7% at Lowe’s
- 12.7% at Southern Company
- 12.3% at Colgate Palmolive
- 11.8% at FedEx
However, the analysis points out that none of these companies had equitable representation for Black women despite the fact that this group has led the entrepreneurial population since the onset of the pandemic.
How Companies Can Address The Lack Of Representation
Understanding the importance of Black representation in the workplace means hearing out concerns from these workers, then applying those lessons to improve their work experience.
Diversity in the workplace goes beyond representation: it’s a necessity for business growth.
Another McKinsey report actually revealed that companies with better representation of minorities typically outperform their competitors.
There are countless benefits to proper Black representation in the workplace. Here’s how companies can improve their own representation, as well as make an impact on the global workforce.
No, money does not solve everything, but it can make a significant difference in the betterment of Black workers. For instance, Apple invested $100 million into its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative project, which helps “to challenge systemic racism, advance racial equity nationwide,” according to its website.
However, throwing money at the problem is not enough, and oftentimes companies that make these lavish donations do not actually know where the money is going. So if a company wants to truly boost opportunities for Black workers, they should donate to an organization where they have an understanding of how the money will be used.
Educational institutions have systematically lagged behind in terms of supporting Black learners, but progress has been made in recent years.
Research from Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI) found that college enrollment for Black undergraduates grew by 73% between 2000 and 2010. However, 29% of Black people between the ages of 25 to 29 had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2019, compared to 45% of the white people in the same age range.
Companies can help improve access to educational resources for Black learners by connecting with nonprofit organizations that focus on just that.
For instance, popular fitness clothing brand Nike recently partnered with nonprofit Black Girls Code to host “Powering Human Connection,” a hackathon for young Black girls that helps them gain the skills needed to enter the tech and digital industries in the future.
3. Open Discussion
What some leaders may fail to understand is that their company’s culture will inevitably fall short without consistent employee feedback. While it is certainly important to receive insight from workers of all backgrounds, workers of color need an outlet to address any internal issues.
By taking this approach, leaders can address the specific needs of Black workers, which can result in higher retention rates.
For example, bi-annual employee surveys that provide insight into concerns that employees have may reveal a lack of career advancement opportunities. As a leader, this provides a chance for self-reflection. How many workers have moved up in the ranks over the last three years? How many of those were Black?
Or perhaps there is an underlying issue of bias and discrimination in the workplace. By opening a line of communication and providing an opportunity for Black workers to speak their truth, leaders have a better chance of retaining this talent while improving their overall company culture.
Progress in terms of diversity, inclusion, and equity in the workplace has a long way to go.
Companies are coming to terms that improving Black representation means much more than being in good standing with the public — hiring Black workers is necessary to reflect America’s workforce population and improve the economy.
Without creating more opportunities for Black talent to thrive, companies will suffer from lack of innovation and creativity, two factors that are necessary in order to flourish in the future of work.
Solidarity means more than posting a black square onto a company’s social media feed. It takes providing access to resources that make a meaningful difference in workplace representation.