“I’m speaking”— Kamala Harris
A storm can engulf another storm, leaving some with the mistaken impression that there’s only one storm. Similarly, the intersection of race or ethnicity with gender can make some groups invisible, with no seat at the table.
Women of colour are either compared with men within their same racial or ethnic group or with white women. When viewed this way, the unique challenges they face remain hidden. This “one size fits all” approach to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) tends to benefit a subset of employees. In many instances, the primary beneficiaries of EDI initiatives have been white women.
These findings are reflected in the dismal number of women of colour who have been appointed to board and executive roles at publicly traded companies. Diversity efforts continue to neglect the experience of women of colour, who are typically more qualified for senior corporate roles than many realize.
High levels of education
If we compare U.S. Census data on women with men within the same racial or ethnic group, women in every instance have higher academic credentials, with each group completing university at a higher rate than men.
Women with East Asian and South Asian backgrounds have higher university completion rates than white men. But their success in post-secondary education does not translate into higher wages.
According to Statistics Canada, women of colour born in Canada are more likely to have a post-secondary degree (47.7%) than women who do not identify as a person of colour (25.8%). But this does not result in more opportunities for women of colour to advance to senior roles.
Ryerson University’s 2020 Diversity Leads study found that while there are more professional women of colour than professional white women in Toronto, white women outnumber women of colour by 12-to-one in corporate senior leadership roles. McKinsey’s annual Women in the Workplace report highlights that white women hold 19% of C-suite positions, while women of color only hold 4%.
Resilient and inventive
Citing bias and lack of support, 50% of women of colour are considering leaving their companies within the next two years. Think about that for a minute — 50%.
Taking matters into their own hands, these women are establishing their own businesses, creating opportunities corporations aren’t offering them.
Women of colour account for 89% of net new businesses owned by women in the U.S. As of 2019, women of colour represented nearly half of all women-owned businesses. All this accomplished with little to no access to outside capital. In fact, the first female millionaire in North America was Madam CJ Walker, a Black woman in the Jim Crow era who was an orphan at seven, a mother at 14 and a widow at 20.
Women of colour have been adapting, evolving and transforming to keep up with ever-changing circumstances for centuries. In a rapidly changing, chaotic world, I can’t think of a more resilient, inventive and innovative group of professionals.
One thing is certain: the lack of diversity within corporations is not a pipeline issue. So, what can corporations do to retain highly skilled women of colour and advance their careers?
Disaggregate data by all categories of diversity — race, gender, differently abled, LGBTQ+ and so forth — to understand how employees are being paid, who is being promoted, and the length of time employees are in a position before they are promoted.
Commit to employee groups for all diverse groups
Companies with only one group for women may be missing the mark and alienating a significant employee group. A Black female professional at a firm in Toronto told me that when she approached management about creating an employee group for women of colour, she was told that it would be inappropriate. Your EDI efforts will have a greater chance of success if you make a point of learning about the most marginalized groups in your organization and identifying ways to engage them.
Move beyond mentorship to championing women of colour employees
Women of colour would benefit more from leaders who actively champion them and make space for them at the tables they are currently absent from.