black professionals corporate
Kenneth C. Frazier (third from right) of Merck attended the February Senate Finance Committee hearing on drug prices. He is one of only four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500. (Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/Shutterstock)

‘Being Black in Corporate America’: Study Offers Detailed Data on Black Professionals’ Experiences

Companies are spending billions on diversity and inclusion programs, but Black professionals are still experiencing exclusion that’s barring them from the C-suite. “Being Black in Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration,” a study by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) used quantitative and qualitative data from a national survey to discover the reality of the corporate world for Black workers.

Black people are more likely to face prejudice and microaggressions in the workplace than any other racial or ethnic group. They’re less likely than their white coworkers to have access to higher-level executives at their companies — an important networking step in rising through the ranks. Sixty-five percent of Black professionals who took part in the survey said they believed Black employees need to work harder to advance, while only 16% of their white colleagues agreed. The compilation of data in “Being Black in Corporate America” analyzes the complex barriers Black professionals face in the workplace, despite diversity and inclusion initiatives. It also offers solutions that can help companies break down the obstacles Black employees face. Research partners involved in this project included Johnson & Johnson (a DiversityInc Top 50 Hall of Famer), and KPMG, (No. 9 on DiversityInc’s 2019 Top 50 Companies for Diversity)

Less than half (40%) of employees of all races responded that they believed their companies had effective diversity and inclusion programs. Black full-time professionals are more likely than white full-time professionals to believe white women are the prime beneficiaries of diversity and inclusion initiatives.

The study drew from the responses of 3,736 participants. Respondents included 1,398 men, 2,317 women and 21 who identified as non-binary or another gender. Five hundred and twenty were Black, 1,783 were white, 549 were Hispanic, 674 were Asian, 135 were of two or more races, and 75 as were of another race or ethnicity. The respondents were between the ages of 21 and 65 and were currently employed full-time or self-employed in white-collar professions, with at least a bachelor’s degree. The data was weighted to be representative of U.S. demographics.

The study also acknowledges intersectionality — the reality that multiple aspects of one’s identity combine to give that person privilege and/or disadvantage.

“Companies often use the phrase ‘diverse talent’ to describe underrepresented groups, but they need to understand the diversity within their diversity,” Pooja Jain-Link, executive vice president at CTI said in a press release. “Black professionals have a different experience in the workplace than professionals of other races. If companies want to truly engage and retain black talent, they need to be courageous and design targeted interventions that take these unique experiences into account. With this report, we are calling upon leaders to think big and start a new movement that reimagines diversity and inclusion in ways that have not been done before.”

Even the region an employee works in contributes to the prejudice they report experiencing, acknowledging that different parts of the country may, broadly, have different attitudes regarding race. Overall, Black professionals are nearly four times as likely as white professionals to say they have experienced racial prejudice at work. Almost 80% of Black professionals in the Midwest reported experiencing prejudice at work, followed by 66% in the West, 56% in the South and 44% in the Northeast.

Black people make up 3.2% of senior leadership and executive positions in companies, and 43% of those executives said colleagues had used racially insensitive language in their presence. Nearly one in five Black professionals said they did not believe someone of their race could achieve a high position. The reality of these statistics is striking. Kenneth C. Frazier of Merck is one of only four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500.

Black women are also less likely than white women to receive support. Thirty-five percent of white women said they had people in their networks that advocated for them and their ideas, while only 19% of Black women said the same.

Beyond corporate diversity and inclusion initiatives, the CTI also offered other solutions to help change the culture of companies. It involves (especially white) people to begin reflection and introspection about their biases and how they were raised and engage in and absorb often uncomfortable conversations about race and privilege. From there, leaders can take action to create spaces where everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas and speaking up.

“We can only create change and impact when we fully understand how systemic prejudice and microaggressions play out in our workplaces,” Julia Taylor Kennedy, executive vice president at CTI said in the press release. “Right now, it’s a lose-lose situation. Companies are missing out on amazing talent at the top of their organizations, and black professionals are not given the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations. This report delivers the facts and, in doing so, will spur conversations that move companies, and society, forward.”

Related Story: KPMG’s Michele Meyer-Shipp and Toyota Financial Services’ BillieJo Johnson Discuss Women of Color Supporting Women of Color

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