Lean In and McKinsey released their "State of Black Women in Corporate America" report today. Based on research on the experiences of Black women in the workplace, the report examines research from their annual collaborative study, "Women in the Workplace." In time for Black Women's Equal Pay Day, Lean In wanted to look at what is keeping Black women behind in the workplace and how to support complete fairness for all women at work

What Is Black Women's Equal Pay Day?

Today marks the end of the 2019 calendar year for Black women. In other words, if a White male and a Black woman both started work on January 1, 2019, it would take a Black woman until today, August 13, 2020, to earn what a White male had earned by December 31, 2019. Black women must work an additional eight months to close the pay gap separating them and their White male colleagues. 

I had a moment to spend some time with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and co-founder of LeanIn.org, to discuss the report and her thoughts about what Black Women's Equal Pay Day means for all women. Her big takeaway is that the most important step is to confront our prejudices: "The data shows that if you think you're not biased, you display more of the bias because you are not taking the steps to correct it." 

Let's examine the three most uncomfortable norms that Black women in the workplace face on a daily basis. 

1. Racism

While many employers would like to believe they are "color blind" and fully inclusive when it comes to onboarding and promotion considerations, Black women in particular see the difference between equity inclusion and quotas. While White women face sexism at work, Black women face both sexism and racism daily, which adds pressure on them to go "above and beyond" what is expected of their White colleagues. 

Black women have always lived with racialized experiences and microaggressions at work. This contributes to the achievement gap, which gives Black women a different view of the glass ceiling from that of their White colleagues. According to the Lean In study, 49 percent of Black women report that they believe their race or ethnicity will make it harder for them to get a raise or promotion, compared with 3 percent of White women. In the U.S. as a whole, for every 100 White men promoted in management roles, only 58 Black women are similarly advanced.

2. Microaggressions

The report outlines a common theme Black women struggle with daily: microaggressions. These are the constant subtle comments that seek to undermine a Black woman's qualifications, education, and/or experience. Comments such as "You speak so well for a Black woman" and "I didn't think you knew how to do that," and even terms such as "Girlfriend" or "Sista," are subtle indicators that Black women are undervalued.

More than one in four Black women surveyed say they have experienced a colleague at work who was surprised at their language skills. It has become a normalized expectation that Black women at work speak with an urbanized tone and are often perceived as "angry." 

3. The "Only" One

Black women know all too well the feeling of being the only one in the room. I remember the early days of my career in corporate America as the only Black woman working in a New York City law firm with 250 people, while feeling used rather than valued. It is a common experience.

"Black women who are the Onlys often report feeling closely watched, on guard and under increased pressure to perform," the study says. Only 17 percent of Black women who are the Onlys at work say they feel included. Onlys feel a unique pressure to overperform at work because they feel that all Black people will be judged by the performance of one Black woman. 

What Do Employers Need to Do to Make Black Women Feel Included?

"Especially in the age of coronavirus, the average woman is taking on an additional 21 hours of domestic work per week due to remote work policies. For the average Black woman, it is even more," Sandberg says. "This is a moment for everyone to pay attention and gain insight on how to correct such biases."

What can be done? The "State of Black Women in Corporate America" report outlines a few strategies that employers can implement. 

Reconsider Your Diversity & Inclusion Policies 

While many companies are doing well at addressing the gender gap for women, Black women have always believed that gender diversity was designed specifically for White women. "[Let] everyone know that the company will be prioritizing Black women's advancement .... Not only is it the right thing to do, it's good for business," advises the report.

Creating gender and race policies limits the double-discrimination microaggressions that impact productivity and performance. This is also known as intersectionality. In addition, the report suggests that companies set metrics to examine how this proactive approach to the intersection of race and gender is working.

Compassion During Turbulent Times of Racial Injustice 

The recent murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis was difficult to process for most Black people. But for Black women, the video of a Black man dying while calling for his deceased mother was especially hard to watch, as many Black women were thinking about their sons, brothers, and fathers in that moment.

Employers should be aware of how the violence against Black people in the news affects Black women at work. Many of your employees go home each day to a different set of factors, experiences, and distractions from what their White co-workers face as racial injustice continues to hinder Black communities and families. 

The Lean In report states, "For a workplace to feel inclusive, it is critical that all employees demonstrate an awareness of events ... that disproportionately impact the Black community." Employers cannot continue to ignore the issues that are impacting the lives of their employees, which has been the primary focus of the Black Lives Matter movement. All lives will matter when Black lives matter. 

Never discount the pain of Black women as "too emotional." There is generational and systemic trauma that other marginalized groups may not understand. Black women need empathy and compassion, rather than having their pain ignored. 

Audit Your Hiring Practices 

To ensure Black women are in the promotion pipeline, take a look at the historical data of how your company has onboarded and promoted internally. One big recommendation is to use anonymous resumes. Studies have shown that candidates with White-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to be invited for an interview than Black-sounding names. By inviting a third party to work with your company to anonymize the names, hiring decisions are based on qualifications, rather than on subtle biases.