If you want to contribute to improving gender and racial equity in the workplace, actively participating in the advancement of women of color through sponsorship is the way to go.
We’ve all read the statistics and we all know that there’s a big discussion on gender equity in the workplace. If you happen to be unaware, here’s some tidbits below to illustrate the disparity of women thriving in the corporate world:
· According to Catalyst.org, Women hold just 24% of senior management roles
· Only represent a mere 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs
· Only 1 in 18 women earns a 6-figure salary in the US – versus 1 in 7 men. (NYT, 2018)
And for women of color, all of these gaps are even wider in both wages and leadership representation:
Women of color represented only 4% of C-Level positions in 2018, falling far below white men (68%) and white women (19%). (Nielsen, 2017)
Despite the of exclusion black women still report wanting to; Remain in the same organization (88%); Be an influential leader (87%) and work toward a high-ranking position (81%). (Catalyst, 2019)
The disparity is real and for me personally, living and working in a metropolitan like Austin that actually has a declining population of people of color, this is something I just can’t ignore. Women of color are leaving the corporate world in droves and moving towards entrepreneurship because the struggle for a seat at the table is too hard and draining for many women to battle. And why should women have to struggle so hard? The proof is already in the pudding in regards to our value in the workplace.
Companies that actively work to increase the representation of talented women see amazing benefits:
Fortune 500 Companies with the highest representation of women on boards financially outperform those with the fewest female board members
A recent Gallup study found that gender-diverse business units have higher than average revenue than less diverse units.
So, it looks like working towards gender-diverse equity would benefit both men and women and the company as a whole. If that’s not a win-win opportunity, then I don’t know what is. So what can companies or individuals do to improve the advancement of women?
I’ve had influential male leaders often ask me, “I’m one of the ‘good guys’ and I want to help. How can I contribute to correcting this?”
When I hear this, my eyes light up. I love giving people a call to action. ACTION is what’s going to change this disparity. To take this step, it's important to remember that women of color have unique challenges that are different from their white counterparts, due to being of two or more marginalized social groups (race & gender). We call this intersectionality or specifically for women of color, "double jeopardy." And the studies are there to show this definitely holds good talent back from advancement:
Black women are more harshly evaluated under conditions of organizational failure when compared with black men, white men, and white women due to the “double jeopardy” effect. (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2012)
According to the Women in The Workplace 2018 survey, 40% of black women have had their judgment questioned in their area of expertise in comparison to 27% of men.
According to the HBR, women of color statistically receive less support from their management than their white counterparts.
No wonder there’s an absence of these women in higher leadership positions and the career stagnation that forces the hand of women to pick up their bag and leave the corporate sector is so rampant. Someone needs to advocate for them.
This is how you can help—become a sponsor for a woman of color in your workplace. This is an individual who goes above and beyond just giving advice. They push their protégé to take on challenging assignments and helps advance their careers. Like a mentor, this relationship is built on trust and becoming her champion. A sponsor is different from a mentor and though there are a time and place for both, having an advocate or sponsor that's actively supporting your career is invaluable.
I can illustrate this from my own experience.
My own Personal Journey
About six years ago, I was at the end of my rope with the corporate world. I had a manager who didn’t respect or appreciate my skill set and ambitions. Eager to prove my worth, I did leadership work without the money and balanced that with my individual contributor duties. I was overworked, ignored and during one of the most stressful years of my life in suddenly losing my mother, I was passed over for a much-earned promotion not once, but twice to lesser qualified individuals. I was ready to throw in my chips and leave until another manager convinced me to move into a new role on his team and start fresh.
A year after that, I received a new manager who also recognized my track record, leadership, and aptitude for people management and coached me to a new level of my career. He (a cis white male) was my advocate—speaking up for opportunities for me even when I wasn’t in the room. Giving me credit for the accomplishments I've done. I felt comfortable sharing my goals knowing he had my back. Our professional relationship is still strong to this day because I trust that he’s supportive of my endeavors and it shows. We learned a lot from each other. It’s fortunate that my sponsor just happened to be my manager, but that is definitely not a requirement to be someone's champion. I’m sure that he didn’t think of himself as a sponsor (just being a good manager), but that’s one way to illustrate how easy it could be for someone of influence to change the game.
Being someone’s champion when you believe in them can open doors for them that you never thought existed. As a sponsor, it benefits you by expanding your own network and keeping top talent in the business where a lack of support would force that talent to move on. This is where the work is done; and all from taking the time to make a connection and rally for someone who maybe has been under-appreciated and under-utilized to their full potential. As a woman of color, I needed that advocacy and needed that trust and though I was fierce in my career goals, I could not have moved up as fast as I did without that support. I brought my "A-game" to work every day, but it was only when I had sponsorship did my advancement moved to where it needed to be.
If you are in an area of influence and leadership, being a sponsor for a woman of color in your company can move the needle. If you’re ready to actively contribute to improving gender and racial diversity where you work, I highly encourage you to be open to being a sponsor and/or a mentor to guide and help the women in your company get the opportunities for them to thrive!
And for the women out there... I encourage you to keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to advertise your skills. It’s not bragging, you’re simply stating facts. The more people hear of what you’re capable of, the more people will want to champion you. Build your army of supporters and in turn, give back.