woman constrained

Over the last year and a half, many companies have come forward with promises of improving diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in their businesses. But a majority of women of color are not seeing that change, according to a report from San Francisco-based Prismwork, Los Angeles-based nFormation and New York-based Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative. In fact, they feel that companies are failing.

In one particularly striking finding, women who participated in the salon-style conversations used by the report authors talked about “toxic rockstars.” They are people who are great at their jobs that also rub everyone the wrong way. In fact, 96% of women of color believe it’s important to create better avenues for diverse groups to provide feedback to leaders and HR– especially about toxic rockstars. “So many times, the marginalized person who’s like, ‘Hey, this person is crazy, they’re racist or sexist,’ gets dismissed as the one lone wolf or just being difficult,” one Black woman wrote.

To produce the report, the groups conducted more than 100 salon-style conversations with women of color and surveyed over 1,500 women — 1,181 women of color (Black, Latina and Asian women) and 545 white women.  

Almost every woman who responded to the survey (96%) wants companies to establish honest and true commitments to DEI, and 92% want to see diversity and inclusion metrics added to the performance standards for executives. Many (82%) also think it’s important for white colleagues to be informed about their biases and prejudices to spark meaningful conversation. Even more women of color (97%) agree that companies must establish better processes to investigate racism and discrimination.

Women of color aren’t thriving in today’s work environment, which was designed for white men, according to the report. Women of color are 18% less likely to feel supported by superiors than white women, according to the report. More than two-thirds of the women of color surveyed say they’ve had to prove themselves over and over again and more than half (56%) say their colleagues are not their champions. 

More than half of women of color (58%) said that having a senior leader that does not look like them has impacted their career, and nearly the same amount (57%) said hearing damaging stereotypes based on their ethnicity/background impacted their career.

“It takes serious guts to be a WOC and toss your hat in the ring for a job that no other WOC has ever held,” according to the report. “We are usually the first, one of a few, or the only person to ever look like us to occupy leadership roles.”

Nearly every woman surveyed (92%) agreed that companies must establish specific goals for hiring and promoting women of color into influential positions. They’re also interested in companies investing in them — 72% want companies to provide external coaching to navigate their careers.

What’s more, women of color feel unsupported by the other women in their workplace — 54% of women of color feel that women undermine each other at work. “Women of Color are competing with other Women of Color for a seat at the table and there’s only one broke-ass chair. And that’s the problem,” said one Black woman respondent.

This rings especially true for white women — nearly half of the women of color who responded said that white women make them feel inferior, invisible and/or like they do not matter, according to the report. White women play important roles as allies, to amplify women of color’s voices, most women of color agree. 

The report outlines solutions for companies to improve their workplace culture:

  • Look beyond the pipeline. It’s likely not a problem in the pipeline, but a problem in recruitment strategy.
  • Pay equity is a “long game.” Turn to pay equity solutions that offer third party verification to make your company one women of color want to work for
  • Often leaders give women vague feedback. Instead, give women of color honest and constructive feedback and commit to regular performance reviews
  • Ask women of color for feedback as you improve policies
  • Focus on mental health and wellbeing. Women of color are facing burnout and trauma. 
  • Establish diversity metrics and make them public to attract new talent.
  • Treat DEI as the business imperative it is. Embed it into every aspect of business, from recruitment to promotions. 

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.