It is unquestionable that the labour market is the most overwhelming for the Black woman. As they are severely underrepresented in high status and high paying jobs, a number of Black women find themselves frustrated and stuck in their current positions. Though research has shown that Black women make up majority of the labour market, their contribution to this market is primarily in low paying jobs, thus resulting in less stable jobs in comparison to their white counterparts. In various labour markets, Black women have always been underrepresented in comparison to Black men. This is due to societal expectations as Black women have historically taken the lead in domestic jobs which are associated with low wages.
The exclusion of Black women in high status jobs is also due to a lack of access to education and/or information in regard to various career paths. Because of this, many lack the motivation to push forward. Furthermore, many young Black women do not have the means to finance their career goals. With a lack of both career education and finances, many look to available jobs which are primarily domestic.
According to the Catalyst Organization, the percentage of Black women who earned a Bachelor’s degree in the United States decreased from 12.3% in 2011-2012 to 11.4% in 2017-2018. Though It is unclear as to why this number has been decreasing, It may be due to a lack of career advice as well as funding for career aspirations. For those that do manage to overcome this obstacle, very few make it to higher career positions even though they aspire to them. In a study conducted in 2020, women represented 18% entry level positions, 9% of director positions, 5% senior vice presidents, 12% manager positions and 3% of C-Suite positions. Looking at the above numbers, it is clear that Black women are underrepresented.
As previously stated, Black women are highly represented in low-wage and essential jobs. These jobs range from housekeepers, nursing assistants, cashiers and in-home personal care aides. A large number of women go into these jobs at a young age and never move on from them in fear of either not being able to secure employment in the future or due to lacking the skills that are essential in a professional environment.
Black women are included in two marginalized groups (Black and female), and thus face greater discrimination compared to individuals who are only faced with a single marginalized identity. This fact is usually overlooked when debates around ‘women in leadership’ are discussed. Regardless of the obstacles and barriers Black women face, studies have shown that they devise strategies to overcome challenges associated with gender and racial discrimination.
In a study by the Harvard Business review, graduating from a prestigious business or law school does not help in regard to gaining C-level positions. While 532 African American earned their MBA’s at Harvard Business School between 1977 and 2015, only 13% of the African American women graduates achieved high ranking executive positions compared to 19% of African American men and 40% of a matched sample of 150 non-African American HBS alumni. With such low numbers represented, ambitious young Black woman can easily lose hope and accept the minimum. If education is not the key to achieving high status jobs, then one may wonder what is.
It’s clear that the factors preventing Black women from advancing at work are quite different from those holding white women and even Black men back. Even with changing demographics, Black women still occupy less than 5% of board seats. The real question is whether large companies are giving Black women the same leadership opportunities as their white counterparts. In addition, are these spaces actively preparing all employees for higher positions? There is a limited number of Black women in executive positions; therefore, little is known about the obstacles faced by women aspiring to be in higher positions. It is also not clear what strategies are present for them to navigate their way to decision-making positions. It is important to observe the factors that affect the professional development of African American women in leadership positions. Many researchers have noted the lack of diversity at top positions in many sectors. The gender pay gap data has shown a significant increase in the number of white women in senior roles across sectors.
Though U.S. companies have been making efforts to diversify, they aren’t retaining Black professionals or promoting them to top ranking positions. Black people account for 12% of the U.S. population but only occupy 3% of senior leadership at large companies and 0.8% of all Fortune 500 CEO positions. Black women are 2.8 times more likely than white women to aspire to be in powerful positions with a prestigious title, but 44% feel stalled and 26% feel their efforts go unrecognized by superiors more than their white female counterparts.
It’s without a doubt that large companies need to actively make a change or implement strategies to ensure that junior Black employees are trained and given the same opportunities to compete for the high ranking jobs that their white counterparts are currently receiving at greater rates. The opportunity to reach these milestones begins at the school level. When accurate and sufficient information is provided, they are more inclined to choose to be in professional jobs. In the work environment, these individuals will have a better chance of reaching leadership positions if they are well equipped to do so.
Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity, Missing Pieces Report: The 2018 Board Diversity Census of Women and Minorities on Fortune 500 Boards (2019).
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table 37: Median Weekly Earnings of Full-Time Wage and Salary Workers by Selected Characteristics,” Current Population Survey (2020).
Olga Emelianova and Christina Milhomem, Women on Boards: 2019 Progress Report (December 2019): p. 5.
Thomas, R., Cooper, M., Cardazone, G., Urban, K., Bohrer, A., Long, M., Yee, L., Krivkovich, A., Huang, J., Prince, S., Kumar A., & Coury, S. (2020). Thomas Women in the workplace 2020: Corporate America is at a critical crossroads. McKinsey & Company and Lean In.
Tia T. Gordon. “No, Black Women Still Don’t Earn The Same As Their White Peers. Here’s Why. July 31, 2017. Catalyst