The State of Black Women in Corporate America: Why Achievement Can't Close the Gender Wage Gap

Illustration for article titled The State of Black Women in Corporate America: Why Achievement Can't Close the Gender Wage Gap
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As long as pay disparities for Black women continue, inevitably so will the respectability politics that insist that we are somehow culpable for those inequities—you know, the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality that is the hallmark of so many of America’s suppressive policies and longheld beliefs about mobility. However, as all too many Black women know, bridging the so-called “achievement gap” to attain higher education and better career options doesn’t necessarily translate to mobility; ironically, the more the odds for success seemingly improve, so too do the obstacles for further achievement.


“We see the same general pattern: Women are having a worse experience than men. Women of color are having a worse experience than white women. And Black women, in particular, are having the worst experience of all,” posits the introduction to Lean In’s latest report, The State of Black Women in Corporate America.

Published in tandem with Black Women’s Equal Pay Day 2020, the report draws attention to the many unique challenges Black women face in the workplace, even (or perhaps, especially) within the upper echelons of corporate America. Drawing data from Lean In and McKinsey & Company’s annual Women in the Workplace study, it includes the experiences of over 22 million people, along with the participation of a quarter of a million individual employees over the course of the past five years, making it potentially “the largest study on the state of women in corporate America, and the largest study on the experiences of women of color at work,” Lean In tells The Glow Up.

“In this moment, with a national conversation underway about the systemic injustices Black people face, we must take a hard look at what’s happening in the workplace,” said LeanIn.Org’s Managing Director Raena Saddler. “For too many Black women, work is yet another place where we encounter inequality and discrimination. Our report shares clear, concrete solutions companies can implement today to ensure there is a work environment where Black women are represented and empowered to thrive.”

Most importantly, the report dispels the notion that Black women lack ambition. In fact, Lean In tells us, despite that ambition, “Black women face far more barriers to advancement and receive notably less support than women as a whole.”

Some factoids of note in The State of Black Women in Corporate America:

  • 41 percent of Black women want to be a top executive versus 28% of white women
  • Black women are promoted more slowly
  • For every 100 men who advance to a managerial role, 58 Black women do; in comparison to 80 white women and 72 women overall
  • Black women receive less support from managers and get less access to senior leaders
  • 59 percent of Black women have never had an informal interaction with a senior leader, versus 47 percent of white women
  • Black women face more everyday discrimination
  • Black women are more than 3 times more likely than white men to hear a coworker express surprise about their language skills or other abilities – almost 2.5 times more likely than white women

While these findings may not be news to those of us Black women already navigating the complicated social and professional networks that comprise corporate America, Lean In says:

“This is a call to action for employers to make their workplaces equal for women. The only way to do this is to center on the women who are most marginalized. If employers want to do better by women, they must do better by Black women.”

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



As Michelle Obama observed, that “lean-in shit” doesn’t really work for Black women. Ambitious women in general are seen in a negative light, Black women even more. Corporate culture as a whole needs to change if equality is truly the goal.