To improve diversity, employers need to pay attention to intersectional invisibility
- Black female corporate executives had to develop a greater self-awareness of when they were visible or invisible in their organizations in order to advance their careers, says Harvard Business Review (HBR), citing research results from interviews with 59 women between 2007 and 2014.
- Researchers found that earlier in these their careers, the women had to navigate the disconnect between being both physically visible due to their differences yet "cognitively invisible" to the organization. By mid-career, they began taking on high-risk assignments to raise their visibility. And by the time they became executives, they focused on positively impacting their organizations and supporting younger employees.
- According to HBR, African-American women make up 12.7% of the U.S., population, but comprise only 1.3% of executives or senior level managers in S&P 500 companies and only 2.2% of the seats on Fortune 500 boards. And currently, not a single Fortune 500 company has a black female CEO.
The study certainly seems to enforce that striving for diversity is futile without inclusion. Diversity aims to bring people of various backgrounds onboard; inclusion seeks to ensure they know they are valued contributors to an organization.
As Katee Van Horn, former VP of global engagement & inclusion at GoDaddy, told HR Dive in an interview last year, you can’t just add numbers and hope for the best, referring to diversity-based hiring. If those who are hired don’t have a great experience and don’t have the opportunity to move up the ranks, they’re going to leave, no matter how strong the front-end diversity program may be.
Many black women describe their experiences in the workplace as neither inclusive nor engaging. They face being repeatedly passed over for promotions, having their contributions and achievements ignored, feeling forced to outperform their white colleagues for the same level of recognition, and sometimes facing more overt forms of racism — particularly in the affluent tech industry, where many new leadership opportunities reside.
The culmination of mistreatment of women of color in the workplace is contributing to what's called an "emotional tax" on their health. Anxiety and sleeplessness are some chronic symptoms, which can lead to serious productivity and wellness issues for employers. In response, employers can work to ensure everyone feels that they're heard while at work; employee resource groups, which allow employees with shared affinities to come together and discuss their needs with the intent to inform leadership, are a example of what a collaborative feedback program can look like.
Organizations that don't value African-American women also stand to miss out on much-needed talent — especially in a tight labor market — and the strong return on investment that a diverse workforce can offer.