Every year we dedicate the month of March to celebrating women’s contributions to society and culture. While women have shattered many ceilings over time, those gains have not been equal for all women. Take the Suffrage Movement for example: Ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowed white women to vote in 1920, but it took another 45 years before Black women were able to vote. A considerable gap remains not only between women and men, but between women of color and their white counterparts as well.
In a recent gender workplace study commissioned by HP, 45 percent of women of color in the U.S. expressed a desire to be promoted this year, versus 26 percent of white women. However, only 31 percent of women of color received those promotions, compared to 44 percent of white women. Data like this suggest that barriers exist for women of color in attaining leadership positions.
The opportunity to remove barriers starts with a vital mindset shift. A shift from just tackling the day-to-day work to doing it while embracing the value of diversity. In many ways, we’re still in the early stages of this transformation journey. In the workplace, talking about systemic racism and inequality used to be the purple elephant in the room, but the brutal murder of George Floyd opened people’s apertures on the injustices that people of color face. Now, let’s transform that moment into a movement where we keep intersectionality top of mind in everything we do. It’s not just the right thing to do — there’s also a business case for it.
Companies that are ranked the highest in gender diversity in executive levels are 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies with the lowest gender diversity, according to a 2020 McKinsey report. Companies that ranked highest in cultural and ethnic diversity had 36 percent higher profitability than businesses that lacked cultural diversity.
That’s why as we work to achieve 50/50 gender equality in HP leadership by 2030, we measure and monitor not just gender representation but also intersectionality data in heterogenous markets to ensure women of color have a seat at the table. Diverse representation inspires us to create innovations for all demographics — which, in turn, helps us reach more customers. And when that mindset is woven into how we work every day, we will unlock sustainable and meaningful impact for our business and our society.
Equally important is building a mutually trusting relationship with women of color. It means getting to know them holistically, or beyond their identity as a worker to a deeper vision of who they are. The overnight shift to working from home as a result of the pandemic allows us to get to know our colleagues and their families better, and we’re able to be more compassionate and more vulnerable with each other. Building empathy and a strong personal connection must be prioritized no matter how we work moving forward. By putting the humanity of women of color at the forefront, white women can establish a foundation of trust with them.
Building trust also requires white women to actively listen to women and not be afraid to change if necessary to create a more inclusive workplace. It’s not expecting women of color to act or think like the dominant group. The goal is not to work the same way, but rather to win together in a space where we acknowledge and celebrate our differences.
We also encourage white women to be sponsors of all women, and not just those who look like them. Sponsorship comes in many shapes and forms. You call address bias and be an upstander when you see acts of microaggressions inflicted on women who are “Double Onlys,” a term coined by Lean In to illustrate women who have intersectional identities and who are more likely to experience microaggression than others. You can tap women of color on the shoulder when you see opportunities that help them grow. You can keep an eye out for ways that elevate their expertise on the team. You can advocate for them to executives and other stakeholders and encourage them to strive for leadership positions. Taking these actions will also help you win trust among women of color. Just like how many men have been allies to white women, white women should extend their influence to women from all walks of life.
For Black women, it’s engrained in our culture to respect and honor the shoulders of those who came before us while continuing to lift others up. Stories of Harriet Tubman and Fannie Barrier Williams and the community-centric actions demonstrated by our grandmothers, mothers and aunts inspired us to bring others along. As we wrap up Women’s History Month and reflect on our accomplishments, it’s important not to get too comfortable. Women are making strides in every direction, but until those gains impact the women for whom things are still the most unequal, we will never fully realize the benefits of true gender equity.
Image credit: alex starnes/Unsplash
Lesley Slaton Brown is the Chief Diversity Officer at HP Inc. Every day, Lesley inspires and drives C-suite leaders to embed diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies across their organizations and to demonstrate impact from the boardroom to the business unit. As an agent of change, she has the unique ability to disarm leaders to have difficult and candid conversations around DEI.
As Director, Sustainable Impact Program Management Office, LaTasha Gary oversees the centralized management of major Sustainable Impact initiatives, programs, and projects, as the company drives toward its ambitious 2030 Sustainable Impact agenda. Sustainable Impact is the company’s commitment to leave a positive, lasting impact on the planet, people, and communities, with a focus on accelerating Climate Action, Human Rights and Digital Equity.