Black women and white women approach power, and think about acquiring it, in very different ways, according to a new report.
Black women are significantly more likely than white women to want a big job with a big title, to feel they can excel in such a position, and to place a high value on the ability to earn well, according to the study by the Center for Talent Innovation, a not-for-profit think tank.
An earlier report from the Center found that many professional women are somewhat ambivalent about attaining positions of power. When the researchers asked black women to comment on that attitude, the response they often received was, "I don't see that ambivalence at all," says Tai Green, the co-author of the more recent report, titled, "Black Women: Ready to Lead."
The researchers then looked specifically at professional black women, and found that a relatively large share of them want a top job in their organizations. Twenty-two percent of the professional black women who responded to the survey said they aspire to a powerful position with a prestigious title. That compares to just eight percent of the white women surveyed.
Many African-American women interviewed for the study "were raised with statements such as, 'You have to work twice as hard to be considered as good as your peers,' or 'You have to understand the sacrifices that were made just so you can compete,'" says Green. "That gave them a deeply-rooted understanding of what it means to not have a voice in this country. That's what inspires them to really go for it."
Black women are also more confident that once they attain a position of power, they'll be able to excel in it, the study found. Some 43 percent of black women say that can succeed in a position of power, but only 30 percent of white women have that same confidence.
Green says that's because black women, to a large extent, are already leading. Their employers might not know it, but they're leading in churches, they're leading in schools, and they're leading at nonprofits. "That instills confidence that they can lead in other organizations," says Green.
The study's other striking finding is the importance of financial independence to black women. Some 81 percent of black women said "the ability to earn well" was very important to them, compared to just 54 percent of white women. Nationally, the pay gap between white women and black women is 14 percent. white women earn, on average, 14 percent more than black women.
While Green says about 45 percent of black women do not have children--a figure comparable to that for white women--they are more likely to be the breadwinners for their families and more likely to be unmarried. They're also more likely to be helping support extended family members, or even friends of family.
Black women are also more likely than white women to say they're stalled in their careers (44 percent of black women say this, versus 30 percent of white women) and that their talents aren't recognized by their bosses (26 percent of black women say this, compared with 17 percent of white women).
Green says one of the biggest hurdles to womens' professional advancement, across races, is a lack of sponsorship. Just 11 percent of black women say they have a sponsor, compared to 13 percent of white women.
"Because leadership in this country is mostly white and male, black women are at an immediate disadvantage when trying to look and act and sound like a leader," says Green. "The challenges are greater in trying to identify with and build trust with a senior leader who can advocate for you, and on the surface, doesn't have anything in common with you."