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Women of color trail white women in leadership

Tuesday, April 12, 2016  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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Women of color are the fastest-growing share of the female workforce but lag far behind white women in senior leadership, according “Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership," a new study by the American Association of University Women.

White women make up 29.6 percent of the U.S. private sector workforce and 24.3 percent of its senior-level executives, according to the report. Black women are 7.9 percent of the workforce, but only 1.5 percent of senior leadership. Similarly, Hispanic women comprise 6.2 percent of the private sector workforce, but are just 1.3 percent of senior-level executives. Asian women comprise 2.8 percent of the workforce and 1.3 percent of senor leaders.

The gender achievement gap is not just about race, the report shows. Black men make up a smaller percentage of the total workforce than black women (6.5 percent vs. 7.9 percent), but are still better represented than black women in senior leadership (1.6 percent vs. 1.5 percent).

The AAUW report offers strategies for individuals and employers who want accelerate gender parity in leadership roles.

The report urges individuals to:

  • Become a student of leadership. Women should immerse themselves in books, journals and webinars for women seeking leadership roles that are most relevant to their own career paths, the report said.
  • Seek evidence-based leadership training.
  • Ask for more. “Learn and practice negotiation skills to ensure that salaries and benefits start fair and stay fair,” AAUW advises.
  • Find a sponsor or become one.
  • Explore and address your biases. “We all have implicit biases that are in conflict with our conscious beliefs,” AAUW reports. “Find out about your biases and learn some practical tips for avoiding the mental shortcuts that can lead to unfounded judgments.
  • Understand stereotype threat. “Simply knowing about stereotype threat can help diminish its effect on you,” according to the report. 
  • Set leadership goals. “When women don’t meet all the qualifications for a position, they are less likely than men to pursue it,” AAUW reports.
  • Plan for potential career interruptions. “Women are still more likely than men to handle the housework and caregiving, but men are increasingly taking on these roles,” the report said. “Taking time out of the workforce can be the right decision for both men and women.”
  • Seek out employers that promote women’s leadership. Before joining a company, take a look around: Do you see women and people of color in leadership roles? Blazing a trail is a possibility, but it can be challenging, the report notes.
  • Look for volunteer opportunities that include leadership skill development.

The report says employers should:

  • Offer flexible schedules.
  • Focus on productivity, not face time. “When managers focus on and recognize employees’ contributions rather than watching the clock, productivity and morale may improve,” according to the report.
  • Offer evidence-based diversity training.
  • Actively encourage sponsorship programs.
  • Design better human resource materials. "Bias affects different groups differently, and too often practices do not reflect individuals’ real experience of gender, racial and ethnic bias,” according to the report. “Policies and programs designed to reduce bias, such as blind review of résumés, can limit bias in crucial aspects of the hiring process.”

Download Barriers and Bias

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