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VEST Her Podcast: Supporting Black Women in the Workplace

Before Covid-19, women were making gradual gains in the workforce. The pandemic quickly changed this trajectory. The latest Labor report shows the U.S. lost 140,000 jobs in December and women accounted for all job losses. To make things worse, this trend disproportionately affects women of color, particularly Black Women.

So we invited Stephanie LeBlanc-Godfrey, Global Head of Inclusion Programs for Women of Color at Google to talk about why this is important and how we can better support women at work, in particular black women.

Key Take Aways

Companies are at risk of losing women in leadership. Women are held to higher performance standards. Senior-level women are also nearly twice as likely to be the only women in the room. As opposed to women who work with other women, they are more likely to feel the pressure to work more and experience micro-aggressions. Not surprisingly, senior level women are significantly more likely to feel burn out since they feel the pressure to “always be on”. As a result they are 1.5x more likely to think about downshifting their role or leaving the workforce.

Why it’s important: Research shows company profits and share performance can be close to 50% higher when women are well represented at the top. Senior level women are more likely to embrace employee-friendly policies and programs to champion racial and gender diversity. In fact more than 50% of senior-level women say they consistently take a public stand for gender and racial equity at work, compared with about 40% of senior level men. Senior level women are also more likely to mentor and sponsor other women: 38% of senior level women currently mentor or sponsor one or more women of color, compared with only 23% of senior level male peers.

Women of color are dealing with distinct issues because of their race. Incidents of violence toward Black people in our country have taken a heavy emotional and mental toll on Black women. Yet, fewer than 1 in 3 Black women report their manager has checked in on them in light of recent racial violence. Black women are far less likely to have strong allies at work and are therefore less likely to feel comfortable talking about the impact current events have had in their community, as well as their own grief and loss. As a result, they feel excluded and are less likely to bring their whole selves to work. Furthermore, Black women have always had distinct, and by and large worse, experiences at work. They are promoted more slowly than other groups, are significantly underrepresented in senior leadership and less likely to have manager advocates. They also have fewer interactions with senior leaders, meaning they often don’t get the sponsorship and advocacy needed to advance. Black women also face a wider range of microaggressions, from having their judgment questioned to hearing demeaning remarks about themselves or people like them. Additionally, Black women are often the only ones in the room, so they are even more likely to feel scrutinized, under increased pressure to perform.

Why it’s important: For starters, we should all stand up to racism and check our own bias. As a bonus, companies that have higher degrees of racially and ethnically diverse employees have a 35% performance advantage over companies relying on a “culture fit” that tends to trend white and monocultural. Furthermore, racially diverse executive teams provided an advantage of 35% higher EBIT and 33% more long-term value creation over the least racially diverse companies. Subsequently, companies with diverse talent and executives are more likely to retain the best talent and engage in decision-making that accounts for orienting to larger varieties of customers than companies with a more monolithic customer base.

What can we do?

  1. Believe Black Women and address the distinct challenges they face

  2. Foster a culture that supports and values Black women

  3. Ensure productivity and performance expectations are sustainable

  4. Reset norms around flexibility

  5. Take proactive steps to minimize gender bias

  6. Adjust policies and programs to better support employees E.g. paid time off, homeschooling and mental-health resources, etc.

  7. Strengthen employee communication and transparency


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