When it comes to women of color, what we need in the workplace often depends on our age. How we relate to our coworkers, the qualities we need in an effective manager and how we respond to negative situations vary across generations. Google wanted to better understand these differences. So the tech giant sponsored the U.S. Women of Color in Business: Cross-Generation Study©.
For this study, Harvard Business School alums and co-authors of “A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive,” Bonita C. Stewart and Jaqueline Adams teamed up with polling company Quadrant Strategies to take a deep dive into the work lives of American women “desk workers” and students across four demographic groups (Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers) and four races (Black, LatinX, Asian and White). The study polled 4,300 respondents between January and February 2022. Stewart and Adams have conducted similar studies for the past three years.
“At Google, we see this groundbreaking research as another lens to inform our internal initiatives while bringing exceptional thought leadership to all companies navigating the growing complexity of the workplace,” said Melonie Parker, Google’s Chief Diversity Officer.
The Root spoke exclusively with survey co-author, Jaqueline Adams about the importance of this study and the message she hopes the findings will send to today’s managers.
“We’re overjoyed by the sponsorship of Google, that they see the value in the work that we’re doing, and that they think that the insights are going to help improve management capabilities not only at Google but in all industries,” she said.
Adams says she and Stewart spent most of their careers as the only African Americans in their workplaces. And she hopes that by helping companies better understand the impact of cultural and generational diversity on productivity, they can move the needle on hiring and retaining more diverse teams. “The census says people of color between the ages of 19 - 27 are about to become the majority in the workforce. So the older Gen Zs and Millennials are getting ready to take over. That’s one of the reasons why we need to pay attention to their perspectives on work and the workplace,” she said.
One of the biggest differences that set Millennial workers apart is that they aren’t shy about calling out instances of racism in the workplace. Among Millennials, 61 percent of Black women said they feel comfortable speaking up about issues of race. This differs from older generations who were taught to keep their head down and fit in. You can look to the Crown Act, legislation that recently made it out of the House of Representatives protecting people from being discriminated against based on their hairstyle, to see that the ‘go along to get along” advice is outdated.
But while Millennials of color aren’t afraid to speak up for themselves, the study revealed that many are alone in the workplace. Overall, 46 percent of Black women said they were always or frequently the only person of their race in a professional setting. And among Millennials, 55 percent said they were the only person of their race in their workplace. This “onlyness” that the research uncovered was particularly troubling for Stewart and Adams, considering the corporate promises of greater diversity and inclusion efforts in a post-George Floyd environment. The lack of diversity leaves these women feeling more isolated and vulnerable to workplace scrutiny. Thirty-two percent of the Black women in the survey said they felt their race and/or gender causes others to scrutinize their work, compared to 16 percent of white women.
Surprisingly, the “onlyness” has not impacted Black women’s willingness to reach out and collaborate with their coworkers. When Black women were asked whom they would mentor and why, 53 percent of Millennials, 67 percent of Gen Xers and 76 percent of Boomers said they would reach out to “anyone who asks for help, regardless of race or gender.”
Adams and Stewart want managers to know that as the world becomes more diverse, companies with a more diverse workforce will see an increase in both their performance and their profitability. And the most effective managers will be able to understand the best ways to effectively manage teams with members who check different cultural and generational boxes.
“We talk a lot about cultural intelligence and the need to create a sense of belonging and well-being. In my generation, no one talked about that. This younger generation is different. And because they are so confident and so well-educated, they will move. They see other options, which is a challenge for managers and an opportunity for venture capitalists.”
The result of not being more inclusive could be devastating for companies as more women of color consider entrepreneurship and side-preneurship as an alternative to staying in a company where they don’t feel appreciated. J.P. Morgan recently called Black women the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the U.S. Among Black respondents to the Google survey, 32 percent said they either founded or co-founded the company they work at, up from 14 percent in 2020. And even if they aren’t able to launch a company of their own, 68 percent of Black Millennials surveyed said they could find another job relatively easily.
As the results of her research are shared, Adams says she hopes managers will find ways to harness the entrepreneurial mindset women of color are bringing to the table. “Hiring one and done isn’t going to work anymore. We need to hire multiples.” she said. “Great managers matter, and together we can create a more productive workplace for everyone.”