Black Women in Leadership: Strategies for Progress

How to create a truly inclusive workforce.

learn more about Tiffany Pham

By Tiffany Pham

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

By now the vast majority of corporate leaders understand the business benefits of cultivating a diverse workforce. But your diversity initiatives won't produce results if they don't facilitate fair and equal opportunities for underrepresented employees.

Black women are the most underrepresented group in corporate America. The higher up the corporate ladder you go, the less representation Black women have. Black women are severely underrepresented in senior leadership. Black women make up 7.4% of the US population, but only hold 1.6% of VP roles and 1.4% of C-suite roles. Whereas white men only make up 35% of the US population but hold a staggering 57% of VP roles and 68% of C-suite roles. And though there are 37 women CEOs in the Fortune 500, none are Black.

Through my company, Mogul, I've spoken with thousands of executive leaders to help build diverse teams. Below are my five ways you can systematize access to better support the advancement of Black women in your workforce.

1. Provide ownership opportunities

Black women are less likely to receive access to senior leaders at work. 59% report never having interaction with upper management. The lack of face time makes company leaders less likely to advocate for Black women when considering project managers. Because of this, Black women are far less likely to be involved in important company policy changes or new business strategies.

Senior leaders must create opportunities for Black women to have project ownership and autonomy in company initiatives. Autonomy is vital for career advancement. Taking the lead on projects gives employees the chance to showcase their talent and be seen as valuable stakeholders in the business.

2. Update hiring practices

By now, you've heard about unconscious bias. We all know that unconscious bias is everywhere in the workplace. We all have biases, and the only thing we can do is learn to mitigate the best we can.

Unconscious bias plays a significant role in obstructing Black women's ability even to receive an interview. Studies have shown that candidates with a stereotypical white-sounding name receive 50% more callbacks than a Black-sounding name. When developing a hiring practice, the goal is to stop bias at every inflection point. Here are a few proven solutions that will help overcome bias:

  • Develop a diverse hiring team

  • Offer unconscious bias training for hiring managers

  • Provide hiring managers with specific review criteria

  • Set goals for hiring managers to deliver diverse candidate slates

  • Make resumes and candidate skill assessments anonymous

Additionally, consider incentivizing hiring managers who meet diversity targets. Less than five percent of companies financially incentivize leaders who meet diversity goals. Work with your hiring managers to set progress benchmarks to ensure you're on track and adjust as needed.

Related: 7 Ways to Check Your Bias When Evaluating Your Team

3. Create support programs

Though many corporate diversity initiatives focus efforts on gender or race, few combine both. Inclusive initiatives should go beyond representation metrics. This means offering sponsorship and professional development programs.

One such program to develop is an Employee Resource Group (ERG). Creating ERGs for Black women in your workforce provides them with more support and a voice within the organization. A voice helps shape company norms. An ERG can make it easier to feel safe when speaking up about issues and taking part in company decisions.

Additionally, ERGs develop mentorship initiatives. Many Black women have never received mentorship. In a survey of U.S. law firm employees, 62% said the lack of an influential mentor was a major barrier to their advancement. But mentorship is invaluable for career development. It gives employees the chance to ask questions, formalizes thinking, and learn from company leaders' experiences.

4. Offer training for your managers and seek feedback

It's one thing to lead, but it takes practice to lead the right way. People don't leave jobs; they leave managers. An employee's relationship with their manager is one of the most significant factors for your company's success.

Proper management training better equips managers to keep employees motivated and productive through a long fiscal year. Management comes down to communication. It's how managers assign tasks, provide feedback, and adapt to each employee's working preferences.

An inclusive workplace provides employees with psychological safety and a sense of belonging. Company leaders should champion a culture of accountability — normalize speaking out against discrimination and advocating for Black women colleagues. The goal is to have policies that emphasize ways employees can safely support each other as allies.

Always be learning about the culture of your employees and seek continual feedback. Feedback lets your employees know that you are aware of your biases and are always willing to learn. True authentic leadership starts with how we carry ourselves and speak with others, so relinquishing some control and showing vulnerability will go a long way.

Related: 6 Simple Actions Startups Can Take to Foster Diversity

5. Standardize promotions

Many promotions hang in the balance from a manager's subjective opinion. Subjective evaluations often lead to discrimination, favoritism, and nepotism. If Black women aren't receiving opportunities to showcase their abilities in the first place, it makes advancing through the ranks much more difficult.

During the promotion review process, match the employee's skill sets with the minimum requirements of the new role. Use a weighted scale for experience or tenure and base performance in two or three recent review cycles.

Meet with your employees and talk about their career aspirations. Find alignment with their goals and create a career plan for advancement. Look to award promotions to employees who are motivated and willing to take on more responsibilities. Ultimately, applying standardized promotion policies assures that everyone who performs well will be properly rewarded.

A data-driven human approach

If you take the time to ensure representation and advancement opportunities are equal, you will future-proof your company culture. We need to work together to champion the advancement of Black women in the workplace and create a world where underrepresented groups have a fair shot to pursue their goals. This is how we unlock the world's greatest potential.

Related: How to Ensure Opportunity and Equality for Women Entrepreneurs ...

Tiffany Pham

CEO of Mogul

Tiffany Pham is the founder and CEO of Mogul, the leading diversity recruitment company for finding top diverse talent. Pham was named one of Forbes' "30 Under 30" in media and Business Insider's "30 Most Important Women Under 30" in technology.

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