Since the genesis of the #MeToo movement, and the proliferation of studies exposing gender pay inequality, sexual discrimination, and harassment in the workplace, women's voices are being heard louder than ever.
But are those voices loud enough when it comes to career advancement, especially for women of color? And are men in those positions of power to promote more women of color into leadership roles really listening?
They should. Because according to a recent Harvard Business Review article, "83 percent of Asian women, 80 percent of black women, and 76 percent of Latinas say they want to be promoted," compared to 75 percent of men and 68 percent of white women.
This is especially true for ambitious, high-achieving, educated, and talented women of color looking to break the glass ceiling and rise to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder.
But there are several factors that limit women of color from being promoted into leadership roles, including double standards, microaggressions, and unconscious bias. But there's more.
According to HBR, "despite representing about 18 percent of the U.S. population, women of color represented only 4 percent of C-Level positions in 2018, falling far below white men (68 percent) and white women (19 percent).
In one study, women of color were found to be the group most likely to experience harassment in the workplace, while in another study, black women, in particular, are "often held to a much higher standard than their white and male peers and presumed to be less qualified despite their credentials, work product or business results," states the HBR report.
Managers are obviously to blame for many of the roadblocks affecting women of color. In a McKinsey and Leanin.org study, women of color are less likely to receive mentoring and sponsorship critical for advancement and typically report to bosses who fail to promote their work contributions to others. These obstacles often leave women of color out of the "informal networks that propel most high-potentials forward in their careers."
What can leaders actively do to remove these obstacles from the path of women of color, and help them advance in their careers?
Zuhairah Washington, an SVP at Expedia Group, and Laura Morgan Roberts, professor of management at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, co-wrote the Harvard Business Review article referenced above, and propose six immediate actions.
1. Help them feel connected.
It's been noted that women of color find it harder to assimilate and share their personal lives as openly as their white and male counterparts. In turn, leaders must be better at expressing genuine interest in getting to know them better and personally inviting them to attend office gatherings and corporate social events.
2. Praise more.
Because women of color often feel invisible at work, leaders should raise awareness against unconscious bias and "openly call out instances where good work is being underappreciated or ignored," state the authors. That means, as managers, make the extra effort to praise them for their contributions, through formal and informal communication channels.
3. Provide honest feedback.
Not all feedback is created equal. When race or gender is involved, today's managers fear being perceived as racist or sexist, thus women are less likely to receive specific and honest feedback tied to outcomes, performance, or development, which may hold them back from getting to the next level. The solution is for leaders to "deliver feedback in a manner that shows they care deeply about their employees' personal growth and advancement but are unafraid to call out the areas for improvement," state the authors.
4. Assess potential, not just qualifications.
Women of color are often screened out of the hiring process by more rock-star candidates with desirable qualifications "on paper." This biased practice excludes women of color who "haven't been given the same opportunities as their white and male colleagues," explain the authors. The key? In addition to qualifications and experience, "widen the candidate pool by recruiting and assessing for potential as well."
5. Eliminate bias by being data-driven.
Managers should be better at measuring progress and tracking the performance of women of color versus their peers. Here's a great example by the authors: "If the average manager being promoted during a review cycle has driven less business growth, managed smaller teams and been responsible for a less significant P&L than an Asian woman who has also advanced, or one who hasn't, that is clear grounds for further investigation. Without the data, however, such cases might fly under the radar."
6. Conduct mandatory exit interviews.
Exit interviews here are meant to capture anecdotal data and provide rare insight on the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion programs by systematically asking women of color why they are leaving. By tapping into the experiences of women of color, managers can devise strategies to improve the overall employee experience before talent walks out the door. To ensure confidentiality and anonymity, the authors suggest third-party software solutions like tEquitable and All Voices, especially when employees have to report things like harassment and sexual misconduct.