A very interesting discussion today at the diversity and inclusion focus group I was asked to join. The topic of discussion was the lack of women of colour in leadership positions – very apt considering today is International Women’s Day.
There were varied perspectives around the table, as you’d expect given that we perceive things based on our own personal experiences as a result of our gender, ethnicity, sexual preference.
We all agreed that irrespective of anything else, a job position should always only ever be filled by the right person for that job!
However the caveat being, how can any company ever be sure that it is the right person who has been chosen for a particular role, especially when unconscious and/or confirmation bias, prejudice and stereotyping can and very often does play such a large part in determining who is given the opportunity to progress upwards.
Which then took us to the subject area of why so few women of colour progress up the ranks in the corporate world?
A 2017 McKinsey study stated that “One of the most powerful reasons for the lack of progress is a simple one: we have blind spots when it comes to diversity, and we can’t solve problems that we don’t see or understand clearly.”
In an article in the New York Times written by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton School Professor Adam Grant, one commenter aptly described the challenges in corporate jobs as a woman of Indian heritage. Swati B, who self-identified as an Indian woman wrote: “I face huge biases not just due to my gender, but also due to my race, which is commonly associated with people that are good at ‘doing’ work, and not so much at ‘selling’ themselves.”
So the question here would be, why do women of colour find it so hard to ‘sell themselves’? Why do we very often downplay our successes and achievements? A large part of the humility factor can be put down to cultural norms and conditioning but is there a deeper underlying factor involved?
The Centre for Women Policy Studies found 21% of women of color surveyed did not feel they were free to be “themselves at work.” The same study found more than one third of women of color — ranging from 28 percent to 44 percent — believed that they must “play down” their race or ethnicity to succeed.
So the question we are left with is how can we create a fairer platform for women of colour in the corporate world?