Black women face belonging burnout and career stagnation

Black professional women face bias from managers which is stalling career progression

A new report is calling for greater transparency on pay and promotions for Black women working in big tech and financial and professional services in order to counteract managers’ negative biases.

The report was penned by the London School of Economics (LSE) and has been endorsed by the 30% Club, a campaign for gender diversity at board and senior management level.

Black women face career stagnation

The report involved interviews with 38 Black women at various stages in their careers and found that many are dealing with “mediocre managers who hire in their own image to reinforce mirrortocracy over meritocracy.”

Respondents said they felt they needed to work “twice as hard” to be noticed by management and be given the same opportunities as their colleagues.

One interviewee said they had a secondment into a more senior role during the absence of a colleague and then applied for the permanent position when it became available. However, she was turned down and told by her manager that “she was not ready for the role” then was asked to train the new hire.

Authenticity exhaustion

The report also found authenticity to be an issue for Black professional women at work, where twenty-one women reported “difficulty in being their authentic selves within their organisations.” Furthermore, many said they had to change their persona in order to fit in with a company culture that did not accept them.

Another 17 women said “despite their attempts to conform to their firm’s standards of dress and hair” they continued to experience negative encounters with colleagues. For example, one woman said she was “mistaken for cleaning staff by a colleague when immaculately dressed in a full suit.” Another said she was told they “looked far more professional when their hair is worn straight rather than natural.”

Interviewees said they spent a lot of energy deciding whether to confirm to these set standards, indicating that this could affect productivity, workplace wellbeing, and even retention rates for Black female professionals.

This is echoed in comments from the report’s researchers who said “changing one’s persona on a daily basis takes mental reserves that could be used for valuable tasks within and outside the firm.”

New recommendations

As a result of the report’s findings, LSE have created the “TRANSPARENT framework” to help Black women secure more equal opportunities. The framework brings together the ideas of the study’s participants and provides practical steps for companies to adopt and implement to enable tangible and faster change.

For example, the researchers have recommended that firms engage in cultural awareness training as one of the actions recommended under the TRANSPARENT framework.

Erika Brodnock, LSE Research Officer said: “It was a privilege to meet and to listen to such a diverse and accomplished group of Black women, many of whom I would not have known existed without the opportunity of conducting this research.

“The TRANSPARENT framework is deliberately action-focused in trying to reduce headwinds and augment tailwinds faced by talented Black women in the three sectors that were explored.”

Dr Grace Lordan, founder of The LSE Inclusion Initiative and co-author of the study commented: “We expect that the next convergence for Black women will be greatly helped by a ‘what gets measured gets done’ philosophy, with greater transparency through audits and monitoring of pay, promotions and ratings.”

Ann Cairns, Executive Vice-Chair, Mastercard and Global Chair, 30% Club said: “We know that what gets measured gets managed. While there is already much data available around the barriers women face in the workplace, and indeed, those faced by ethnic minorities, there was little to inform us about the intersectionality of these two demographic groups.”

The full report can be accessed here.

In this article, you learned that:

  • The 30% Club is a campaign organisation for gender diversity at board and senior management level.
  • ‘Mirrortocracy’ is the act of managers hiring in their own image instead of merit-based (meritocracy).
  • Lack of workplace authenticity can affect underrepresented groups where they feel pressure to conform to set standards which can drain their energy and sense of belonging.
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