Aug 17, 2020 - Economy & Business

Report: Black women promoted at far lower rates than white men

Illustration of large briefcase crushing a small briefcase
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A new report from The Lean In Foundation, founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, finds that for every 100 men promoted to manager in America, only 58 Black women are promoted, despite Black women asking for promotions at the same rate.

Why it matters: "A lot of corporate diversity efforts are really focused on the very top," says Sandberg, who spoke with Axios about the report. "And while the very top is super important, you can't get to the top if you don't get that first promotion."

Context: "The State of Black Women in Corporate America" study draws heavily on research from Lean In, an initiative from Sandberg, and McKinsey & Company's annual Women in the Workplace study.

  • The report debuted Thursday in conjunction with Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, and just days after Kamala Harris' historic appointment as the Democratic vice presidential nominee.
  • "We're trying to use this moment to get more attention and interaction," Sandberg says.

Details: The report finds that a lack of managerial support and interactions with senior leaders is what's largely to blame for the promotion gap between Black women and white men.

  • "Men get the benefit of the doubt and get promoted based on potential, while women are having to prove it," Sandberg says.
  • The study calls the promotion problem the "broken rung." Because fewer Black women are promoted at the first critical step up to manager, it becomes harder for them to go on to eventually achieve leadership roles.
  • It finds that women of color, and Black women in particular, tend to receive less support and encouragement from their managers, including support in helping them navigate organizational politics and find opportunities to showcase their work.
  • It also finds that Black women are less likely to interact with senior leaders .

Be smart: Sandberg says that at Facebook, one way she's pushed to ensure senior leaders interact with all employees equally is to offer suggestions for ways to create boundaries that all employees should be comfortable with.

  • "I think men and women need to be able to travel together," she says. "Travel does not mean a hotel room. It means, you know, traveling in an airport, or going to restaurants that are in public for dinner."

The bottom line: Many of the findings in the report suggest that Black women feel disadvantaged in the work place because they have fewer opportunities to casually interact with managers and senior leaders in a way that will help them grow and develop their careers.

  • "You have to have informal contact with people to get promoted," Sandberg says.
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