For Diverse Women, Prejudice Lives On

August 9, 2012In this post, the second in a series on women of color, Catalyst’s Katherine Giscombe, PhD, describes the challenges facing diverse women and asks tough questions related to their status in the American workforce.


Let’s call it what it is: prejudice.

In a report released in July 2012, the Center for American Progress found women of color to be disadvantaged in the areas of health, educational attainment, political leadership, and the workplace. A deep wage gap remains for women of color: African-American women make only 62 cents, and Hispanic women only 54 cents, for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.

My sense is that many organizations, after having implemented diversity and inclusion programs during the past decade, are ready to consider their workplaces enlightened, fair, and meritocratic. However, a review of Catalyst’s research on women of color shows that sticking points remain. Women of color continue to feel excluded in the workplace. They are equally likely now, as in the past, to report a lack of role models similar to themselves. Their mentors lack influence. There is a lack of trust between many diverse women and their managers.

The persistence of these barriers suggests an underlying prejudice. While overt prejudice has lessened, prejudice has become both more subtle and insidious over time. In fact, over one third of diverse women believe that their organizations fail to address this kind of covert gender and race prejudice. People rarely talk about it. Prejudice is hidden and difficult to dismantle, partly because it is so hard to identify.

How do we best bring unspoken or hidden prejudice to the surface? Start by thinking critically about the dynamics in your workplace. What “unspoken” rules determine who gets the plum assignments? How are relationships with key players formed? Why are influential sponsors skittish about reaching out to women of color as protégés?

And for those in the C-suite, why do “minority” hires come under scrutiny, while white male hires do not? How willing are people at the top to promote more than a token number of women of color?

A first step to being able to discuss prejudice is being able to identify it—and admit to it.


Katherine Giscombe, Ph.D., Vice President, Diverse Women & Inclusion Research, leads the Catalyst initiative to address the specific challenges faced by diverse women around the world. She has extensive corporate work experience, having supported marketing and new product development at a variety of Fortune 500 companies for several years prior to joining Catalyst. She combines her doctoral training in Organizational Psychology from the University of Michigan and at the Institute for Social Research with her experience-based perspective to design and conduct unique, comprehensive, and solutions-based actionable research.  

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.