Have you ever stood still and watched the moon? The Ashanti people of Ghana say, “The moon moves slowly, but it crosses the town.” In America, the lot of women of color is like the slow-moving moon: It’s taking an awfully long time to achieve professional and economic parity with white women. Success stories aside, like the ones readers of The Network Journal see each March in the “25 Influential Black Women in Business” list, Black women in the United States are grossly underrepresented in senior corporate management. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that Black women make up 7.6 percent of the work force, the largest group among women of color, and 3 percent of all professional and managerial positions. While the number of Black women in professional and managerial positions in 2003 rose 75 percent from 1990, the increase compares with a more substantial gain of 130 percent by Latinas and 135 percent by Asian women, the commission says. This means Black women work in a disproportionate number of lower-paying sales, clerical and service jobs.
We’re also a pretty unhappy group, according to a study by the League of Black Women, a 38-year-old organization that promotes leadership values and joyful living for Black women. The League’s study, “Having Our Say: Fostering the Leadership Potential of Black Women in America Survey,” found only 20 percent of Black women to be “very satisfied” with their overall lives. Respondents reported greater and more pervasive degrees of frustration with advancing in their careers. In response to the question, “Is your life joyful?” Eighty-five percent of the respondents said “No.”
The survey was conducted in two parts among Black women nationwide between 2005 and 2007, in partnership with Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the world’s oldest management consulting firms. It was intended to help identify and eliminate the challenges Black women face as they strive to fulfill their leadership potential and achieve socioeconomic parity with other groups for themselves, their families and their communities. Of the 230,000 women the survey reached, an estimated 8,300 women, or 3.6 percent, responded. They ranged in age from 14 to 81. Respondents who were employed outside the home reported annual incomes ranging from just under $12,000 to $100,000 and above.
According to the study, Black women still see negative perceptions about race as a barrier keeping them from reaching their career goals. As professionals, they believe that others’ negative views of them in the workplace hinder their ability to excel in leadership roles. Nearly 80 percent surveyed cited race bias as a hurdle affecting their effectiveness as leaders. Respondents said race bias affects interactions with individuals who potentially could influence and advance their career track. “Essentially, the results of the survey indicate that while Black women are confident in their capacity to provide leadership in a range of venues, from family to business, they are stifled and frustrated by seemingly impenetrable social and environmental barriers imposed by a society that continues to oppress them through negative stereotyping and other resistive institutional networks,” the League says. It is pressing corporations to implement strategies to develop and advance Black women with high potential.
Parity for women of color is among the riveting social, economic and political changes with which America is wrestling. Is the country willing to do away with negative stereotyping and other “resistive institutional networks?” It may have no choice. Change can be slow, but it happens. The moon does cross the town.
|By Rosalind McLymont|