The challenges faced by black women in a workplace where diversity is being threatened

Regina Lawless reached a career milestone when she became the inaugural director of diversity and inclusion for Instagram at the age of 40. However, following the sudden death of her husband in 2021, she found herself contemplating whether she had unintentionally neglected her personal life. This introspection also led her to consider the significance of her success as a Black woman in the corporate realm.

Lawless expressed that she felt a sense of support in her role, but she also noted that there was a lack of willingness from the leaders to fully embrace the concept of inclusivity. She believes that it is the responsibility of both the leaders and every employee to actively contribute to the creation of an inclusive culture.

“I am committed to empowering other women, especially women of color and Black women, to recognize that we do not have to compromise our well-being for success. We have the ability to discover existing spaces or establish our own platforms where we can achieve success and flourish,” expressed Lawless, who resides in Oakland, California.

Many women in Lawless’ group find themselves in a unique position where they have no peers in the workplace. They are often the only Black person or woman of color, which can result in feelings of loneliness or isolation.

According to Lawless, coming together as a group provides support for individuals who often feel isolated within their respective organizations.

Black women aspiring to advance in their careers are facing increasingly challenging circumstances due to the ongoing attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. In addition to the constant need to validate their capabilities and communicate in a way that avoids negative stereotypes, they also have to confront the persistent issues of racial and gender pay disparities. Consequently, the underrepresentation of Black women in senior leadership positions remains a significant concern.

Dr. Claudine Gay’s resignation in January as Harvard’s inaugural Black president, amid allegations of anti-Semitism and plagiarism, marked yet another instance of the frequent scrutiny and abandonment faced by Black women who reach the pinnacle of their careers.

Black female professionals faced significant challenges when an administrator at a historically Black college in Missouri accused the school’s white president of bullying and racism, which tragically resulted in her taking her own life. This devastating event prompted some of these professionals to establish networking groups and mentorships, while others chose to embark on a path of entrepreneurship and personal reinvention.

In Boston, Charity Wallace, a 37-year-old biotech professional, and Chassity Coston, a 35-year-old middle school principal, have been contemplating their own career challenges in light of Gay’s difficult situation. Wallace mentioned that she has become more aware of her mental well-being, and that is where their support network of young Black professionals, sorority sisters, and family members comes into play.

“It’s an ongoing struggle to find a sense of belonging and to have a group of girlfriends, homegirls, my mom, and my sister that I can turn to. I find myself complaining to them daily about the challenges I face at work,” Wallace shared. “Having a circle of Black women who understand and support me is crucial because I refuse to let these issues go unnoticed. We have been silenced for far too long.”

Coston expressed her sadness over Gay’s resignation and was concerned that a similar situation could occur to her. This made her contemplate her future in the field of education. However, she was determined not to give up.

“Yes, as Black people and Black women, we will continue to face scorn and discrimination. However, we cannot let that define us,” Coston asserted. “I say this with confidence because I have personally experienced the various stages of grief. We must persist in our fight, just as Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman did.”

According to Wallace, Gay faced challenges despite having an impressive resume filled with achievements.

Wallace expressed his inability to fathom the emotions that must have overwhelmed her as she attempted to accomplish such a feat while earning numerous accolades, degrees, and credentials. It seemed as though even these achievements were insufficient to keep her motivated and committed to her cause.

The efforts towards diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) face significant opposition, especially when it comes to clashes over identity politics. In 2021, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones faced setbacks in her tenure bid at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill due to her involvement with the 1619 Project, a series of essays addressing the topic of race. Similarly, the 2022 confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, received criticism for the challenging and race-focused nature of the questioning.

Taylor mentioned the tension that arises when a CEO declares that they will only consider certain candidates for a position. The contrast and comparison between the CEO’s statement and their physical presence at the workplace can lead to significant tension.

Allen-Kyle stated that she has heard from several Black women, including family, friends, and others, who express a sense of frustration at the notion that being excellent is not sufficient. According to her, there is a prevailing belief that in order to be recognized based on one’s abilities, Black women have to work twice as hard and be twice as good. However, this lesson has proven to be disheartening and disappointing for them as it challenges the idea that merit alone is enough for acceptance.

Advocates warn that the workforce may witness a decline in the number of Black women due to insufficient support and limited opportunities.

According to a 2020 report from Lean In titled “The State of Black Women in Corporate America,” black women make up 7.4% of the U.S. population but hold only 1.4% of C-suite positions and 1.6% of senior vice-president roles. Furthermore, data from the U.S. Census reveals that in 2021, black women working full-time and year-round earned 69 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, while white women earned 80 cents on the dollar.

According to Lawless, the pandemic is likely to have a chilling effect and push more Black women towards entrepreneurship, which is already a trend that is growing at higher rates. She also highlights that corporations are facing a significant challenge as they have experienced a higher loss of women at the director and above level during this period.

Even self-made businesses cannot escape resistance towards diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The Fearless Fund, a small venture capital firm, is currently facing a lawsuit that alleges discrimination in their grant program for Black women-owned businesses. As a result, the founders of the firm have expressed concerns about the negative impact this litigation has had on their ability to attract potential investors.

According to the nonprofit advocacy group digitalundivided, there has been a decline in job openings for diversity officers and similar positions in recent months. Furthermore, the combined share of venture capital funding for businesses owned by Black and Latina women has dropped below 1%, after briefly surpassing that threshold at 1.05% in 2021.

Stephanie Felix, a resident of Austin, Texas, recently launched her own DEI consulting firm in January. This career path wasn’t something Stephanie had envisioned for herself initially, considering her previous experience working in DEI at Glassdoor, a company review website.

Felix expressed that staying in one place also carries a considerable amount of risk, contrary to popular belief that the risk lies solely in leaving.

Felix’s career leap was met with reservations from colleagues, family, and even herself. She had witnessed too many instances where DEI hires were initially celebrated but then faced a lack of support from senior leaders. These hires often went from being seen as the “office pet” to becoming perceived as a threat. Despite the promises of resources and authority to drive change, senior leaders failed to deliver.

“I have great admiration for women who make the choice to prioritize themselves and step away from certain situations,” Felix expressed. “I also commend myself for taking that step. Although it can be challenging, it grants you a greater sense of control over your life, which, in my opinion, is absolutely invaluable.”

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MBS Staff
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