Published by Springboard in 2016, in collaboration with The Executive Leadership Council, and building on a breakthrough 2008 Black Women Executives Research, this study charts the progress, challenges and opportunities for black women in corporate leadership.
Despite recent research findings that (i) black women in corporate America are more ambitious than other women affinity groups, (ii) their labor force participation rates exceed those of all other female groups, and (iii) after motherhood, they are far more likely than other women to work outside the home, blackmake less than their white counterparts and experience fewer development and advancement opportunities than other executives. Furthermore, research indicates that black women professionals are less likely to have a sponsor than other women professionals. (Note: Different from a mentor, a sponsor is senior colleague in the organization who will actually endorse the "sponsee" for promotions, new opportunities and increases in compensation, putting his or her reputation on the line to make it happen.)
This is not only a problem for black women executives, it is also missed opportunity for companies and their management teams who, in a highly competitive national and global marketplace, can ill-afford to underutilized key talent.
Black Women Executives Research Initiative Revisited, 2016, together with Black Women Executives Research, 2008 represents the first longitudinal study of some of the most senior black women executives in corporate America, to understand their challenges, impediments and opportunities during one of the most turbulent times in the U.S. and global economy.
The study provides a blueprint for black women executives to increase their numbers in business leadership positions if intentional steps are taken to recognize and reward their talents and contributions to business success. Women interviewees identified four key areas that make a difference in how well they survived, thrived and advanced in their organizations:
- Be highly aligned with and passionate about their company culture and mission
- Cultivate a rich network of sponsors, allies and mentors across the organization, even when it feels like politics
- Build and layer on a variety business experiences while also becoming known as an expert/go-to player
- Give yourself as long a runway as possible by raising your hand for challenging roles early in your career
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS AND CEOs
Organizations can and should do more to support the development and advancement of underrepresented groups in their organization. There is ample research and evidence that diversity drives innovation and growth. The development and advance of black women executives should be a key component of an organization's business strategy. Companies and CEOs should:
- Assess their culture for lack of alignment with the advancement of all women, ethnic minorities, and other underrepresented groups.
- Assess talent development processes to insure high potential performers, including black women, are identified for early stretch and management assignments. Undertake unconscious bias training to interrupt talent processes can that result in maintaining the status quo.
- Identify ways for black women to access sponsorship opportunities, a critical component of an effective network.