Knowledge Center

Advancing African-American Women in the Workplace: What Managers Need to Know

Barriers facing African-American women in business include negative, race-based stereotypes; more frequent questioning of their credibility and authority; and a lack of institutional support. Experiencing a “double outsider” status—unlike white women or African-American men, who share gender or race in common with most colleagues or managers—African-American women report exclusion from informal networks, and conflicted relationships with white women, among the challenges they face.

The historical legacy of slavery, legally enforced racial segregation, and discrimination based on skin color make race a particularly difficult topic for discussion in the workplace. Among other findings, many women in the study reported:

  • Making discussions of race off limits.
  • That their diversity programs were ineffective.
  • Thirty-seven percent of African-American women see their opportunities for advancement to senior management positions in their companies declining over time, in contrast to Latinas and Asian women who are more likely to see opportunities slightly increasing.

Keys to success cited by African-American women in business include:

  • Exceeding performance expectations.
  • Communicating effectively.
  • Connecting with mentors.
  • Building positive relationships with managers and colleagues.
  • Using their cultural backgrounds to enhance job performance.

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