Most minorities who have worked in Corporate America have been victims or witnesses of overt or covert discriminatory practices.
We have reached a point where racism in the corporate world is finally acknowledged.
Over the past few months, many companies voiced support for the Black Lives Matter protesters. Some committed millions of dollars to fight racial discrimination in and outside the workplace and create a more diverse workforce. Though these are necessary steps in the right direction, very few companies presented a solid plan to increase the hiring and promotion of minority talent.
I have lived and worked in Atlanta for most of my career. One thing that struck me at every company that I worked for is the underrepresentation of minorities, particularly black people in corporate environments.
In my 10+ year career, I have always been either the only one or one of two black professionals on a Corporate team or even in a Division. The number of Black professionals in Upper Management and Senior Leadership is even more scarce. Those observations have also been surprising to me in a metropolitan area that is 34 percent black.
While Black people make up 10 percent of all college graduates in the U.S., there is only 3.2 percent of Black Executives and Senior Managers, and four Black CEOs in Fortune 500 Companies (0.8%), according to the “2019 Being Black in Corporate America Report” by the Center for Talent Innovation.
Often, the excuse used in the Corporate world for not having black talent has been the lack of qualified candidates. But in reality, there’s no shortage of qualified Black professionals. The lack of racial diversity is more so the result of covert Corporate discriminatory practices.
Below are key actions that companies can take to create a space to recruit, promote, and retain black talent.
Commit to actively recruiting and retaining black talent
Companies should be more intentional about recruiting top black talent.
Many talented black students attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities and have fewer job recruiting resources due to their decision to attend an HBCU. However, there are outstanding Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which have educated Black leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Oprah Winfrey, Senator Kamala Harris, or Pulitzer price winner Alice Walker. Not heavily recruiting at HBCUs is missing out on the opportunity to attract some of the brightest future black professionals.
More companies should invest in intentionally recruiting black talent, not only by building stronger relationships with minority student organizations at traditional Universities but also by investing in recruiting at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
In the workplace, Black people are usually surrounded by people who don’t look like them, and they often do not have the same opportunities to build relationships with Senior Leaders. Providing more mentorship opportunities for minority talent and investing in resources to create a more inclusive environment to retain talent and making people accountable is necessary.
Median annual earnings of full-time year-round workers 25 to 34 years old
Commit to closing the gap in compensation, funding, and promotion of minorities
Black employees are a rarity in corporate leadership roles. Black professionals are also at the mercy of discriminatory practices related to workforce compensation and access to funding. Black and Hispanic bachelor’s degree holders earn nearly a quarter less than Asians and White professionals with equal levels of education, according to the 2018 Census Survey. Research by the Pew Research Center also shows that highly educated Black employees earn a much lower hourly wage than their white peers. College-educated Black and Hispanic men earn $25 and $26 per hour on average vs. $32 for White men, and College-educated Black and Hispanic women earn $23 and $22.
To close the compensation gap, companies should review and share diversity data. They should set specific targets and dates to build a workforce and an Executive Leadership that will be more reflective of the country.
Implement policies to reduce racial prejudice at work
Black people are four times more likely to experience prejudice at work than white people (58% vs. 15%) and more likely than other minorities (41% for Latino professionals and 38% percent for Asian professionals).
Often, minorities have to deal with microaggressions in the workplace. From being excluded from meetings relevant to their job, having to listen to comments implying that their natural hair is unprofessional, or being told that attending a Historically Black College is racist or similar to being part of a gang, the list goes on.
Companies should implement a detailed code of conduct to fight racial prejudice and educate their workforce on overt and covert racism and unacceptable behavior. Sanctions should be clear for any employees failing to respect the code of conduct. These measures will foster an environment where employees will be more likely to speak out against racism, and minorities will feel protected.
Commit to closing the gap in funding black businesses
According to the U.S. Census, there are over 2 million Black-owned businesses, which represents roughly 7 percent of the country’s businesses.
However, according to a report released by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) in 2019, black business owners are only receiving 3 percent of “SBA 7(a) loans compared to 8 percent in 2008. These Government-backed loans are the primary means to provide financial assistance to small businesses.
Also, while black women make up approximately 8 percent of the U.S. population and are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs, they receive less than 1 percent of Venture Capital funding.
Banks and Venture Capital firms who want to be anti-racist should review their lending processes to remove discriminatory practices. When lending or granting money, their practices should be fair to minorities and free of biases.
Photo: James Wheeler
The country is at a crossroads. Companies can lead the much needed social change starting from within by building a more diverse workforce. Companies sincere about creating a more inclusive environment should commit to the process and be intentional about implementing specific long-term targets and plans to create an environment reflective of the country in which we live. They should take the time to listen to their black, brown, and other minority professionals and ensure they are sitting at the table throughout the process. Corporate changes and new policies to help companies become anti-racist can only be effective if the people who fully understand the problems are part of finding and implementing the solutions.
“Inclusion is not about bringing people into what already exists; it is making a new space, a better space for everyone.” George Dei