It’s a common lament of the jaded among us: The only time they [the white establishment] put a Black person in charge of something really important is when the something-really-important is in such bad shape that its demise is almost a given. In that way, they can plaster blame all over the Black person in charge when the situation worsens, saddling the BPIC with all the wrong moves, all the bad decisions, all the mismanagement his or her predecessors were probably guilty of. It’s a setup for failure that bolsters the “I-told-you-so” of the anti-Black camp, the lament goes.
The notion of changing the status quo at the corporate top, or at least the talk about it, seems to have reached the teeth-gnashing point in some circles. In a pleasantly surprising cover story in its July 23-29 issue, The Economist, the British press’s standard-bearer of corporate and government rectitude, takes on the issue of “Helping Women Get to the Top.” There is progress of a sort, the magazine’s three-page report declares, “but of a glacially slow sort. The glass ceiling phenomenon is proving peculiarly persistent. The top of the corporate ladder remains stubbornly male, and the few women who reach it are paid significantly less than the men they join there.”
Addressing conditions on the same ladder for Black women, Katherine Giscombe, senior director of research at Catalyst, directed a groundbreaking study on the barriers women of color face in corporate management, says the study “found a very stubborn persistence of race-based stereotypes, especially around the areas of authority and credibility.” It found, she said at a recent Black Women on Wall Street gathering, that Black women believed there had been a decline in advancement opportunities in the recent past, that very senior Black women didn’t feel they were quite part of the inner circle of power. “They did their jobs, but they didn’t necessarily feel the sort of group think that can happen at very senior levels in organizations,” Giscombe said. However, “in spite of all the issues that African-American women face in the organizations around the race-based stereotypes, the exclusion, the authority and credibility issues, we actually found that within our sample they were the most likely to have mentors. So they really were able to navigate the organizational environment and find mentors and sponsors to support them,” she said.
In October, the National Council of Negro Women will publish a truly empowering work, Tomorrow Begins Today: African American Women As We Age. While the book addresses the challenges facing Black women between the ages of 35 and 59, it is a blueprint for getting to the top of yourself, from where you will be more effective at the professional, family and social “tops” to which we aspire or where we already may be. It is a must-read for the men in every Black woman’s life. I read the preview booklet and gave it to one of my sons. If you really want to be a Black person in charge, I told him, read this.
|By Rosalind McLymont|