Half of black women believe they will be overlooked for promotions, study finds

Employers have been urged to do more to address the ‘structural and cultural barriers’ that perpetuate inequality at work

Nearly half of black women working in professional jobs believe there will be times during their careers when they will be overlooked for promotions they are qualified for, a survey has found.

The poll, conducted by the Black Women in Leadership (BWIL) network, found 45 per cent of black women in white-collar jobs believed they would miss out on promotions despite being just as qualified as their non-black female colleagues.

The same study found that two thirds (68 per cent) of black women experienced racial bias at work, increasing to 84 per cent among black women in senior management positions and 87 per cent among those in senior executive positions.

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Additionally, half (52 per cent) of black women in senior executive positions reported that they had resigned due to racially-related unfair or uncivil treatment, while a third (33 per cent) of all black women surveyed had resigned for these reasons.

The research, which polled 250 white-collar black female employees between February and October 2021, also found that nearly two fifths (38 per cent) believed they earned less than non-black colleagues doing the same job.

Dara Owoyemi, co-founder and director of BWIL Network, said the “sobering” findings  highlight the work that still needed to be done. “Our vision at BWIL is a world where competent black female professionals can truly thrive in a workplace that is increasingly free from gender and racial bias,” she said.

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“We hope that this study will contribute to the discourse and engagement around these vital issues of diversity, inclusion and equity as it relates to black female professionals,” Owoyemi added.

Jill Miller, senior policy advisor for inclusion and diversity at the CIPD, said that the inequality of opportunity amongst black women was “unacceptable”, calling on employers to do more to increase diversity in their talent pipelines.

“In-depth analysis of workforce data, taking account of intersectionality, [is needed] to identify the structural and cultural barriers that are maintaining inequality” she said.

Gemma Bullivant, HR coach and consultant, added that the findings reinforced how urgent mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting is, urging companies to “get on the front foot” and report their own ethnicity pay gaps instead of waiting for reporting to become mandatory.

“When companies are required to measure and report on the gaps, it can help to drive the activity in the right direction,” she said, noting that the fact that the gender pay gap widened when reporting requirements were temporarily lifted during the pandemic “suggested this type of scrutiny does have an influence on outcomes.”

“Use this valuable data to inform and develop talent and D&I actions to address these issues in your own organisation,” said Bullivant.