by: Minda Harts, Founder, The Memo
Two months after graduation, I landed my first corporate job with visions of a meritocracy that offered equal opportunities to ascend towards the C-Suite. Instead, I was greeted with something different. I experienced discrimination and isolation that my university did not equip me to overcome; that I learned by trial and error.
In 2013, Sheryl Sandberg inspired all women to Lean In, yet, failed to address what leaning in is like for black and brown women. There is an extra socio-economic and systemic layer of glass that women of color must chip away at before they reach the ceiling in Sheryl’s book. I know access and opportunity are not created equal, although, they should be inside the workplace. For several years, I contemplated leaning out due to exhaustion from conscious and unconscious bias, and seeing no clear path to advance. I spent years as the "only one." Can you imagine being the only one of anything for years? I once had a manager brag about having the most diverse executive staff. Each time she said it, I felt like I had been sucker punched. Her idea of diversity was a team of all white women (and me). It was in that moment, not only did I feel invisible, but I questioned who at my company was invested in my success. I had to come to terms with waking up each morning to do the work I loved for an organization that was culturally bankrupted.
Statistics show that, as a black woman, I am part of the most educated groups in the country. Sixty-six percent of black women earned a four-year degree, 71 percent earned master’s degrees, and 65 percent earned doctorate degrees, according to The National Center for Education Statistics. Despite all of our education, black women are not only on the low end of the wage gap, but also less than five percent of us are represented in C-Suite roles in Corporate America. At some point the fight for parity becomes too burdensome and one starts to question if it’s even worth the trouble. As a result, many of us are leaving Corporate America and starting our own companies!
A couple of years ago, we created The Memo, a career platform to help women of color advance in the workplace. Many black and brown women have invested in their education and dedicate their careers to companies where only 36 percent of them feel their managers are invested in their success. This fraternity, that so many of us are eager to join, continues to disappoint and puts little to no effort in retaining and advancing us. Currently, there are no African-American women leading a Fortune 500 company and if we continue to lean out, I fear we might not see another one for quite some time. In a new study by McKinsey & Company the challenges that women of color face in the workplace are harder than white women, yet, many companies idly standby and continue to say they are "working on it." Some companies are “well intentioned” and invest millions into recruiting diverse talent, yet, I challenge them to invest in retaining and promoting these women; who aspire to advance within their companies, before it’s too late. Like my grandmother would say, “are we going to talk about it or be about it?”
Is Corporate America going to finally take responsibility for women of color leaving a structure that is not set up for us to advance? We are no longer satisfied being employed by companies just to make their dismal diversity reports look better. We want a seat at the adult table to chime in on matters that affect women of color and architectural rights to reconfiguring the status quo. If #TimesUp and #MeToo are new rites of passage, then I say we create an additional hashtag! We have done our part, checked all of your boxes, and now it’s #YourTurn to prove how invested you want to be.
In the words of James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”