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Black women still held back by bias in American workplaces

We’re deep into the 21st century. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is almost six decades old. In this year’s edition of the annual list of the world’s most admired women, Michelle Obama came out on top. Oprah Winfrey was second.

But a major new survey has found that black women fare better in public opinion polls and in federal legislation than they do in real American workplaces.

The numbers still don’t add up

To collect the data for Women in the Workplace 2018, the researchers talked to 64,000 employees from 279 companies, asking them about their experiences in the workplace. The same project has published study editions since 2015, with almost 20 million total participants so far.

Rather than simply slow, the study concluded that progress toward equality for women of color has stalled. For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 60 Black women are. And Black women, the survey found, are paid 67 cents on the dollar compared to men.

Companies have gotten the message that gender and racial diversity create a more profitable business, with more than 90% agreeing with the idea. But when the employees of those companies are asked, only 42% see gender and 22% see racial diversity being prioritized.

Holding leaders accountable for reaching diversity goals

Recognizing the scale of the problem is important, but the goal is holding leaders accountable for reaching diversity and inclusion goals. The researchers emphasize that progress in racial and gender inclusion should be just another business goal. The key is for leaders to state the business case, set goals, track progress and reward success. But the study found only 38% of companies set gender targets. Only 12% share their gender numbers with employees.

The report quotes several experts about possible solutions. One says many companies collect data but don’t think clearly about how to use it. “Companies need to know how far and how fast their employees are moving in their careers.”

Another suggests forming “affinity groups” and then seeking to open a line of communication directly with CEO. Such a group could push for “an equity study on who gets paid what and who is being promoted. You need to get the data so you’re not guessing.”

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