Why companies are still doing a terrible job of advancing Black employees
Despite the rise of corporate programs aimed at creating a more representative workforce and companies that are making strides, the consensus is that Black advancement in the workplace is not progressing as fast as it should be.
Nearly two-thirds of employees think their companies are not doing enough to foster diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B), according to a survey of 2,000 workers in the U.S. from WebMD Health Services and Blue Research. While nearly 9 in 10 respondents work for companies with DEI&B programs, 62% believe that they are not doing what they were designed to do and nearly half (46%) say such programs have failed them personally.
To illustrate how companies are failing, one need look no further than a study by McKinsey & Co. that found it will take about 95 years for Black employees to reach parity across all levels — including senior management — in the private sector. While Black employees make up 14% of the U.S. workforce, representation at the managerial level is just half of that. At senior management levels — vice president and senior vice president — it declines even further, to 5% and 4%, respectively.
Making matters worse is the observation that companies may have put diversity initiatives on the back burner during the pandemic — a mistake considering that prioritizing equity has been directly tied to companies’ financial well-being.
“We often hear people talking about DEI&B initiatives, but fundamentally this is about an organization’s culture, about its systems and about its processes,” said Rosanna Durruthy, vp of global diversity, inclusion and belonging at LinkedIn. “It’s about leaders who are fully vested in embracing this work — not as the work of the head of diversity, but as the work that all leaders do to understand why this is important.”
LinkedIn found that lack of career growth and opportunity ranked second among the reasons Black professionals leave their jobs, at 43%, behind only competitive wages (46%) and ahead of company culture (24%) and lack of investment in DEI&B (17%).
While management understands the roles of business functions such as research and development, marketing and sales, some still struggle to grasp why DEI&B is fundamental to employees’ workplace experience, as Durruthy sees it. “It’s not just about work — it’s about how we live,” she said.
What’s more, DEI&B is viewed by some as a political agenda. “It’s really about ensuring that great talent has access to opportunities to contribute, to perform and to be successful,” Durruthy said. “If we could look at it through that lens, it really makes it less daunting for organizations to approach this work and recognize diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging doesn’t displace people; what it actually enables is the possibility of having the right talents and capabilities to grow your business.”
A persistent problem, as the LinkedIn data underscores, is that while a company may have a DEI&B program in place, it does not necessarily create a pathway for employees to rise through the ranks. “Without professional development and learning, without investment in DEI&B, without having true, meaningful career growth and opportunities for development, it will be very difficult to retain the Black talent they have,” Durruthy said.
Another problem is that the pandemic sidelined investment in training and development programs, creating a disadvantage for historically marginalized and younger workers, noted Jennifer Moss, a workplace strategist in the Toronto area and author of the book “The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It.”
“Because the workload increased so exponentially, employees felt stigmatized if they were taking time to invest in their own learning and development,” she pointed out, adding that the lack thereof contributed significantly to the quiet quitting movement. Employees “are feeling like they’re putting in all this time and all this effort and going above and beyond but there’s no kind of light they can see in the future for their upward mobility. Career planning was just sort of put on pause for the last three years.”
Post-pandemic, companies must also put renewed emphasis on mentorship, with DEI&B as a core focus, said Jen Snow, CTO in residence at A.Team, a members-only network of product builders. “When we mentor, we have the opportunity to showcase how DEI&B makes us better as a team and as a company,” she said.
Snow stressed that companies with a more diverse leadership and workforce create a superior business all the way around, enabling them to identify market opportunities faster, achieve better employee retention, carry out more equitable practices, maintain exceptional customer service, and generate greater innovation and revenue, while investing more in their local communities.
Crucially, mentorship with representation at its core also gives companies an edge in the marketplace, Snow said. “Diversity creates more resilient and successful workplace communities,” she explained, “so mentoring programs that also emphasize DEI&B grant a strategic and competitive advantage that makes it hard for non-diverse companies to keep pace.”