Illustration for article titled New Study Confirms What We Already Knew: Being Black in Corporate America Is Not for the Weak
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It’s not exactly a secret that corporate America has a diversity and inclusion problem, and a new report uncovers just how ugly life is for many black professionals in the workplace.

According to the New York Times, the Center for Talent Innovation just released a report, “Being Black in Corporate America,” after surveying approximately 3,700 full-time professionals of all races. The study was sponsored by big names like Disney, Morgan Stanley, and Pfizer, and its findings are rather unsettling, to say the least.

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In its efforts to examine America’s legacy of racism, the report explains the purpose of its study as such:

In human resources (HR) and diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy, Black professionals are frequently conflated with all people of color, and approaches that have worked for other marginalized groups—notably White women—are often redeployed for Black professionals, despite the different challenges these groups face.

Using data to reveal the systems of prejudice that many experience, we share what it is like to be Black at work—and explore intersectional differences. Then, we explore how employers can build more equitable, inclusive cultures for Black professionals.

Here are some of its findings:

  • While CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg love to tout the virtues of diversity and inclusion, their hiring practices and treatment of black employees say otherwise. Only 8 percent of employees in white-collar professions are black and that number shrinks considerably as we attempt to climb the corporate ladder. At the executive level, that percentage drops to a meager 3.2 percent, and apparently less than 1 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs know how to season their food properly.
  • Black professionals are far more ambitious in their careers than their white counterparts, but 1 in 5 believe their race/ethnicity prevents them from attaining the jobs they deserve within their companies. Former American Express Chairman and CEO Kenneth Chenault put it succinctly: “It’s embarrassing because there are thousands of [Black] people who are just as qualified or more qualified than I am who deserve the opportunity, but haven’t been given the opportunity.” You think?
  • The vast majority of black professionals don’t have access to senior leadership, while nearly half of white employees revealed that they do. This means that if the name of the game is career advancement and the people at the top look nothing like you, it’s a bit more challenging to forge relationships with decision-makers that could yield better opportunities. Coincidentally, nearly two-thirds of black professionals agree that they have to work harder than their white colleagues—the same white colleagues who admit they don’t face the same hurdles. This is not a coincidence.
  • Prejudice and microaggressions are par for the course. The vast majority of black professionals have endured each of these at some point throughout their careers and are nearly four times more likely to encounter discriminatory behavior at work compared to white professionals (58 percent vs. 15 percent). Location also comes into play, as black professionals living in the West or Midwest—where black populations are lower—have an even higher likelihood of facing prejudice in the workplace.
  • Black millennials are tired of this shit. Whereas older generations are more accepting of the status quo and have adopted an “it is what it is” mentality, their younger counterparts aren’t having it—in part due to a higher percentage of black millennials spending “a great deal of energy being authentic at work” and feeling an expectation to represent their entire race. As a result, nearly 40 percent of black millennials are ready and willing to put in their two weeks’ notice. But that’s not to say all black professionals aren’t dying to do the same, as nearly a similar percentage have every intention to leave their jobs, too.
  • To the surprise of no one, white women are terrible allies. Why? Because they “aren’t seen as advocating for others” even though they’re the primary beneficiary of diversity and inclusion efforts. Of those surveyed, only 12 percent of black professionals believe Katelyn or Abigail have their backs. That’s pretty damn telling.
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Illustration for article titled New Study Confirms What We Already Knew: Being Black in Corporate America Is Not for the Weak
Screenshot: Center for Talent Innovation

Sooooo what does the study suggest as solutions to resolve these problems? Well, for one, employee resource groups provide a safe space for black professionals to vent, but far too often aren’t followed up with subsequent action. This, of course, leads to black professionals being forced to create solutions to problems that not only impede their progress but that they didn’t even create in the first place. Good times.

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From the New York Times:

The study recommends that companies conduct audits of how black employees are faring and feeling, and then take steps to address “mismatches in the perception of racial equality” between employees of different races. That, the authors argue, will lay the necessary groundwork for the company’s diversity and inclusion programs to be more successful.

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According to the report, this proactive approach can create “transformative solutions” that could “generate meaningful change.” More specifically, auditing could reveal mismatches in perceptions of racial equality, address “the myth of meritocracy,” identify stellar candidates for promotion, and “gather honest answers to burning questions or concerns.”

All in all, it’s a pretty fascinating study that hopefully in a perfect world, the powers that be will take heed to.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for ya'll to stop putting sugar in grits.

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