Feb 24, 2021 - Economy & Business

How corporate America leaves behind Black professionals

Illustration of a hand trying to grab a nameplate with "CEO" written on it.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Across cities, companies and industries, Black professionals are underrepresented in the top jobs.

Why it matters: Fixing the broken pipeline for Black executives is not only the right thing to do, but improving boardroom diversity has also been proven to drive profits.

Driving the news: A pair of new reports, from McKinsey and Glassdoor, show the plethora of cultural, geographic and other barriers that keep Black workers out of the C-suite.

By the numbers: Black Americans make up 12% of the U.S. population. They're proportionately represented in entry-level professional jobs (12%), but underrepresented at the manager level (7%). Black professionals are even more severely underrepresented at the senior manager, VP and SVP levels (4%).

  • On the other hand, Black workers are overrepresented (18%) in the low-paying jobs in food service, e-commerce and beyond that are on the pandemic front lines.

If corporate America sticks to its current trajectory, it'll take Black professionals 95 years to get to 12% representation at the manager level, per McKinsey.

What's happening: A range of factors are hindering progress.

  • 60% of Black workers live in the South, which has far fewer job growth centers than other parts of the country, according to the McKinsey analysis. Put another way, only 1 in 10 Black workers live in cities with high projected growth, like Seattle or Provo, Utah.
  • Black workers are overrepresented in front-line jobs that pay hourly wages. "It's hard to see the pathways from those jobs to more lucrative jobs in the economy," says Lareina Yee, McKinsey's chief diversity and inclusion officer. "You don't see much jump for Black workers from hourly to salaried."
  • And even for Black professionals who are in lucrative jobs, attrition rates are high.

Those attrition rates can too often be linked to company culture.

  • Just 53% of Black employees believed their co-workers valued and embraced diversity, compared with 75% of white employees, McKinsey found.
  • And Glassdoor's analysis of company reviews across its platform found that Black employees report below-average experiences at work at many prominent firms.
    • Black workers gave Amazon an overall company rating of 3.2/5, compared with the average rating of 3.9. Macy's got a 2.7 from Black employees, compared with a 3.4 average. Black workers rated Citi 3.4, and the average rating was 3.9.

Worth noting: Some companies saw higher-than-average ratings from their Black employees. At Kroger, Black reviewers gave a 3.6 versus the 3.2 average.

  • "This suggests that there is not just one culture at Amazon or Google or Facebook," says Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor. "Just as our society creates pockets of inequality, companies create them, too."

The good news: While the geographic and industry concentration of Black workers is a major structural issue, companies do have a great deal of control over culture, and they can take steps to make their Black employees' experiences more equitable, experts say.

  • Companies can start adding transparency to recruiting and promotion processes, setting up ways in which employees can report discrimination, and hold aggressors accountable, Patrick McKay, a professor of human resource management at Temple University, told me.
  • The problem is "deep down, organizations are highly inertial," he says.
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