As we leave behind the midway point of 2022, the time of #BlackLivesMatter and the social unrest characterizing that summer two years ago seems further and further away. And while so many other issues have come back to the surface as of late, there does seem to be a general apathy towards social justice issues settling over America—especially when it comes to race relations.
However, even in the midst of the social unrest the country was living through in 2020, there were a number of things that I noticed. One of the main things was the performative aspect of the narratives that were being shared. From the black squares on Instagram to the various corporate companies making sweeping, unkept promises, more people seemed concerned about marketing these issues and analyzing how their bottom lines were affected than about the real-life people being harmed by racial injustice and police brutality.
Intersectionality, a term coined by Professor Kimberley Crenshaw in 1989, is a concept that influences a multitude of elements in the lives of Black women. As Crenshaw has stated, it “is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects.” It is a framework for conceptualizing a person, group of people, or social problem as affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages. It considers people's overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of the prejudices they face.
It is clear that intersectional discriminations regarding race and gender make it exceedingly difficult for Black women to move up the ranks in corporate positions and be respected in comparison to their peers. After the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, Nike announced a $40-million commitment to the Black community, declaring that it will “never stop striving to role model how a diverse company acts.” Similarly, Sephora, one of the companies that partnered with the 15 Percent Pledge, planned to dedicate 15% of its shelf space, or what the company is calling its “brand assortment,” to products from Black-owned brands (Marketplace.org). Unfortunately, these “pledges” have not had a direct impact on the upward mobility of Black people in corporate spaces.
However, to this day, less than 2% of top executives at the 50 largest companies are Black. With Black Americans making up 13.6% of the country and earning 10.1% of Bachelor’s degrees, these statistics do not complement the employment rates of Black Americans in higher-earning, corporate positions. And, even further, despite women of all races outperforming men in terms of education and graduation rates (there have been more women holding Bachelor’s degrees than men since 2015), Black women are barely represented in senior corporate positions.
McKinsey & Company’s 2020 annual Women in the Workplace study investigates deeper into the barriers that make the workplace worse for Black women than other demographics. They key into the fact that Black women are significantly underrepresented in leadership roles. They are “much less likely to be promoted to manager—and their representation dwindles from there.” The more senior the position, the less seriously a Black woman will be considered for the opportunity. In addition, Black women receive less support from their senior leaders while also facing more day-to-day discrimination in the workplace.
nFormation & The Billie Jean King Foundation’s PowHer Redefined Whitepaper also does a great job of quantifying the stressors and disadvantages that Black women face in the workplace. Through their quantitative study, they conclude that while 83% of women of color show confidence in their leadership abilities and 93% describe themselves as hard-working, women of color are both 20% less likely to say ‘I have the resources needed to advance my career’ and more unsatisfied with their rates of advancement than white women. This allows many women of color to feel stifled and even belittled in their workplace environments.
Overall, Black women are disproportionately affected when it comes to obtaining higher degrees of employment in the corporate setting. This is especially true when looking at higher-leadership positions. The only way for this to change is for employers—especially those with more privilege than Black women—to hire them at higher rates, properly compensate them, and uplift them in their job positions on a day-to-day basis.
Jayme Fraser & Jessica Guynn. https://news.yahoo.com/two-years-george-floyd-pledges-100247619.html
nFormation & The Billie Jean King Foundation. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/618565dba8090219e367fe36/t/618ea7ce246262095f92465a/1636739032150/PowHER+Redefined+White+Paper.pdf
United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045221