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A NEW view: The industry through a multicultural lens

Wednesday, October 22, 2014  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Joan Toth

More than 36 percent of U.S. women are multicultural — by 2050, they’ll be the majority of women. This shift has already transformed our retail consumer base and workforce, but it’s not being reflected in our leadership ranks.

Not so long ago — when "diversity” was known as "equal opportunity” — diversity was seen as black and white, male and female. Little attention was paid to the extraordinary experiences and contributions of multicultural women, and this created a gap in understanding that persists today.

Last year, 1,950 NEW members and supporters — most of them women — completed an in-depth survey on multicultural women’s leadership. The findings were eye-opening and used as the basis of the NEW Best Practices Report "Tapestry: Leveraging the Rich Diversity of Women in Retail and Consumer Goods.” Although women share many experiences in the workplace and perceive many of the same barriers to leadership, there are many instances when the perceptions of multicultural and white women vary widely. (Multicultural in this reporting refers to individuals who identified themselves as African-American or Black, Hispanic or Latino, Asian/ Pacific Islander, mixed-race, Native American/ Alaskan and "other.”)

For instance, multicultural women surveyed were much more likely than white women to say they "have experienced workplace bias” (44 percent versus 32 percent). While 56 percent of multicultural women said they face greater work bias than white women do, fewer than 28 percent of white women agreed. Likewise, multicultural women were more than twice as likely as white women to say that white women are more likely to advance in the workplace (51 percent versus 21 percent).

The majority of all respondents agreed that "white men have an advantage in the workplace,” but a greater percentage of multicultural women agreed.

It was no surprise that white women (and men) were less likely to perceive bias in the workplace — it’s harder to see bias happening to someone else — but these wide differences in perception should serve as a wake-up call.

Companies get low marks

White women were more likely to agree that "my organization includes the perspectives of multicultural women in making important decisions” than multicultural women (32 percent versus 26 percent), but neither group gave our industry high marks on this telling question.

While more than 75 percent of both multicultural and white women surveyed said they’ve had "mostly positive” workplace experiences, one-third of all women (32 percent) and 38 percent of multicultural women described their careers as "stuck."

Only half of those surveyed said they have a sponsor or mentor, and an astounding 54 percent reported being bullied or harassed at work.

Although most women agreed with the statement "I trust my supervisor,” white women were more likely (73 percent) than multicultural women (62 percent) to do so. No wonder, then, that multicultural women are less likely than white women to feel free to be open and authentic at work. Forty-five percent of multicultural women said they "don’t share important aspects of their personal life at work,” compared with 35 percent of white women.

Company policies and corporate cultures that ignore the unique qualities of multicultural women are doing a disservice to all women and to their organizations. It’s bad for multicultural women deprived of opportunities to advance, for work teams denied the benefits of diverse leadership, and for retailers that lose multicultural women’s unique insights.

Joan Toth is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women. This article first appeared in Progressive Grocer.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its officers, Board members and sponsors.

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