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Ask Deborah: How Do We Change the “Picture” for Women of Color?

February 16, 2016February is Black History Month. It’s also when many of us are paying attention to this year’s Academy Awards—an event that has come under fire recently (again) for its continued lack of nominee diversity. For the past two years, only white performers have been nominated in the acting categories. The “old boys’ club” that is the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences—its voting population is 94% white, mostly men and has an average age of 63—continues to essentially leave out women, African Americans, Latina/os, Asian Americans, and Native Americans from its awards and recognitions.

Like many, I was frustrated by the Oscar nominations. And, if you’ve been on social media, you’ve surely seen or even been a part of the #OscarsSoWhite conversations that call out Hollywood decision makers and the images—consisting of mostly white individuals—both behind the screen and on it. The good news is that as a result of #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy made an historic change to its voting block and rules moving forward.  

What these new rules did is shine a spotlight on a pervasive issue: there is a lack of diversity that transcends beyond cameras and flashing lights and that is symptomatic of broader societal issues. Sadly, these challenges in Hollywood feel familiar, given what I see for women—particularly women of color—in the workplace and the world.

From Catalyst’s decades of research, we know that women of color will comprise 53% of the female population of the United States by 2050. However, women of color face unique barriers in today’s business environment—barriers that make them the least likely to benefit from corporate initiatives to close gender gaps. And yet, closing those gaps is the only way to make significant change.

Case in point: women of color make up only 16.5% of the S&P 500 labor force. And as job level increases, the number of women of color decreases drastically. Our data also revealed that in 2013, African-American, Asian and Latina women each accounted for just 1% of executive and senior-level managers according to the EEOC. Women of color are similarly underrepresented on S&P 500 boards, comprising only about 20% of the total of women’s board seats. The pipeline is not just leaking, it’s hemorrhaging.

Finally, while most of us know that women earn 78 cents to a man’s dollar, many of us might not realize that this number drops significantly for women of color.

What can be done to remedy this? Catalyst believes the solution is inclusion. Inclusion allows women of color to have a voice and a seat at the table.  And we have a great example of actionable solutions that any organization or community can take to improve their inclusion efforts.

Gap Inc.’s 2016 Catalyst Award-winning initiative, Women and Opportunity, leverages inclusion as a business tool to attract top talent, advances women’s representation globally, and increases employee engagement and retention. Since 2007, when Gap Inc.’s leaders became more intentional in their work and sharpened their strategic focus on gender, the company’s representation of women of color in the United States increased from 28% to 34.4% among all employees and from 20.4% to 23.9% among store managers, managers, and senior managers. Plus, among those reporting to the CEO, women’s representation has gone from 33% to 77%, and women of color comprise four out of the 10 women.

Gap Inc. has certainly proven itself to be a global organization that understands the importance of being a champion for inclusion. They have the proven results and achievements that continue to be remarkable and a lesson for us all. 

Now, it’s our turn to make a real difference. I’m calling on Hollywood—and all of us—to offer fresh perspectives and take thoughtful action in order to truly remedy inequities and build more inclusive work cultures for women of color—on screen, behind-the-scenes and everywhere else.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.