But many multicultural women in corporate America, citing bias at work, say they're planning for a departure to start their own businesses for more control over their careers, according to a study released July 22. On the Verge: How to Stop Tidal Wave of Multicultural Women Fleeing Corporate America, a report by Working Mother Media, explored individuals' workplace experiences, including the biases they've faced. The report was based on a survey of 3,098 professional women in 24 industries from Oct. 31 to Nov. 26, 2019. It also included results from five online focus groups, interviews with multicultural women who have left corporate America and those who have stayed and been successful.
About half of the Asian, Black and Latinx women surveyed said they are considering leaving their companies within the next two years. More than half (52%) of Black women are considering leaving, which is the highest percentage, compared to 45% of White women, which was the lowest percentage.
Multicultural women said intersectionality — the interconnected nature of their race, gender and ethnicity — makes it harder to advance to senior positions, according to the report. Notably, profit-and-loss (P&L) or core operation roles, which can oversee cash flow and advise budget allocations for an entire organization, are crucial to moving to the top corporate positions, according to Working Mother. But barriers to those roles remain.
To explore solutions such as employee pulse surveys and assigning high-profile multicultural women to core business functions, Subha V. Barry, president of Working Mother Media, provided insight via email. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Why are P&L roles essential for multicultural women to advance to senior positions?
Barry: A Korn Ferry survey of the 1,000 largest U.S. corporations showed women holding 25% of C-suite positions, up from 23% in 2018. But most of those spots were as chief of human resources and only 6% of CEOs were women. The path to the CEO historically and consistently requires P&L experience. Our Gender Gap at the Top research last year showed only 20% of multicultural women were encouraged to consider P&L roles during their careers. The talent pipeline structure should encourage them to try new roles (often through job rotations) without fear of failing or repercussions.
We also recommend employers establish an early-identification progress using assessment assets with use of blind data identification of traits and competencies. Benchmark the traits and competencies against the established leadership profile, and work with a coach to help multicultural women focus on specific areas of development crucial to leadership in your organization.
Additionally, because there are fewer multicultural women in mid- and senior-level management, they will be less likely to show up as high potentials. Look down a few levels to identify emerging high potential multicultural women for additional skills development/mentoring.
Employers also can: assign high-potential candidates to P&L roles, not general or support departments unless they specifically request those; build awareness through communications and recognition of multicultural women who have been successful in P&L roles; provide a series of educational opportunities on how to read and understand the company's financial statements and tools; and track and incorporate financial and promotion incentives at every people manager level (not just at senior levels) for retention and promotion of multicultural women.
Intersectionality in the workplace is a major factor for many multicultural women, according to the study. Should their mentors come from similar backgrounds so they can relate to their experiences?
Barry: They should have mentors from similar backgrounds as role models and to understand their experiences but also, very importantly, from other backgrounds so they can best understand corporate culture and expectations (and learn from each other).
In our recent report, 22% of multicultural women said their mentors, sponsors and coaches are male and 54% said they are of different races and ethnicities. Working Mother's 2020 50 Best Companies for Multicultural Women survey found 75% of companies on that list actually track the race/ethnicity/gender of mentors and about 45% track race/ethnicity/gender for sponsors. With White men still in the majority of power positions, it's clear they will be the majority of mentors and sponsors. Yet multicultural women say it is also helpful to have others, who have "walked in their shoes" to guide them.
How does sponsorship and allyship benefit multicultural women?
Barry: Sponsors and allies can encourage multicultural women to take on stretch assignments and new challenges even if they aren't 100% ready. They need the boost and the advice more as they sometimes don't know the inside corporate culture rules.
Our research showed 37% of multicultural women with sponsors received advice on how to advance versus 29% of White women.
What key performance indicators should companies focus on to stem the departure of multicultural women?
Barry: Everything should be broken down by each group of women by separate race and ethnicity. Employers should track promotion rates to each level of management, attrition rates at each level of management, pay equity at each level of management and percentages in formal mentoring and formal sponsorship.