An unprecedented look at being black in Corporate America

by | Jan 6, 2020 | Public Relations

The workplace remains rife with shortfalls when it comes to diversity and inclusion, particularly for African Americans, yet few white professionals see what their black colleagues are up against, according to new research from nonprofit think tank the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI). Black professionals are more likely to encounter prejudice and microaggressions than any other racial or ethnic group. They are less likely than their white counterparts to have access to senior leaders and to have support from their managers.

Corporate America needs to awaken to the challenges faced by black professionals, asserts the org’s new report, Being Black in Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. Sixty-five percent of black professionals say that black employees have to work harder in order to advance, but only 16 percent of their white colleagues agree with that statement.

Using a wealth of quantitative and qualitative data, featuring findings from a national survey, the new CTI report delivers a multifaceted analysis, including solutions, for creating workplace cultures where black employees can do their best work and succeed.

“This report sounds the alarm that, despite many good intentions, companies are falling short of creating equitable workplaces for black employees,” said Pat Fili-Krushel, CEO of CTI, in a news release. “We hope that business leaders will respond to these findings by making a serious assessment of their own workplaces and creating a comprehensive plan of action. We are especially concerned about the lack of awareness we discovered among white professionals. This report gives business leaders a path for moving forward.”

An unprecedented look at being black in Corporate America

Black professionals are more likely than white professionals to be ambitious, and they are more likely to have strong professional networks

Despite these assets, black professionals hold only 3.2 percent of all executive or senior leadership roles and less than 1 percent of all Fortune 500 CEO positions. The report lays out the systemic racial prejudice in the workplace that underpins low representation at the top, with the following findings:

  • Black professionals are nearly four times as likely as white professionals to say they have experienced racial prejudice at work (58 percent versus 15 percent). Regional differences are stark: 79 percent of black professionals in the Midwest say they have experienced racial prejudice at work, compared to 66 percent of black professionals in the West, 56 percent in the South, and 44 percent in the Northeast.
  • 43 percent of black executives have had colleagues use racially insensitive language in their presence.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 (19 percent) black professionals feel that someone of their race/ethnicity would never achieve a top position at their companies, compared to only 3 percent of white professionals who feel this way.
  • Black women are less likely to have access to the same support and advocacy as white women. For instance, 35 percent of white women have individuals in their networks who have advocated for their ideas and skills, compared to 19 percent of black women.

An unprecedented look at being black in Corporate America

“We can only create change and impact when we fully understand how systemic prejudice and microaggressions play out in our workplaces,” said Julia Taylor Kennedy, executive vice president at CTI, in the release. “Right now, it’s a lose-lose situation. Companies are missing out on amazing talent at the top of their organizations, and black professionals are not given the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations. This report delivers the facts and, in doing so, will spur conversations that move companies, and society, forward.”

An unprecedented look at being black in Corporate America

Only 40 percent of all employees of all races think their companies have effective diversity and inclusion programs

Black full-time professionals are also more likely than white full-time professionals to say white women are the primary beneficiaries of diversity and inclusion efforts (29 percent versus 13 percent).

“Companies often use the phrase ‘diverse talent’ to describe underrepresented groups, but they need to understand the diversity within their diversity,” said Pooja Jain-Link, executive vice president at CTI, in the release. “Black professionals have a different experience in the workplace than professionals of other races. If companies want to truly engage and retain black talent, they need to be courageous and design targeted interventions that take these unique experiences into account. With this report, we are calling upon leaders to think big and start a new movement that reimagines diversity and inclusion in ways that have not been done before.”

An unprecedented look at being black in Corporate America

Talented black professionals are much more likely than white professionals to plan to opt out of their corporate jobs to start entrepreneurial ventures

Black professionals who have worked at both large and small companies are also more likely to find an environment of trust, respect, and a sense of belonging at small companies, compared to large companies. Corporations that wish to retain black professionals should offer the same. In addition, the report delivers a roadmap that calls upon leaders to audit their workplaces, and to create conversations that awaken white employees to the workplace prejudice that their black colleagues face.

“Study after study has shown that black executives perform as well as or better than other executives but are not advanced to the highest levels,” said Skip Spriggs, president and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council, a research partner on the report, in the release. “The roadmap offered by CTI as a result of this study could make a difference because it is rooted in intentional, results-oriented actions designed to effect measurable, positive change.”

View key findings from the report here.

The national survey was conducted online and over the phone in June 2019 among 3,736 respondents (1,398 men, 2,317 women, and 21 who identify as something else; 520 identify as Black, 1,783 as White, 549 as Hispanic, 674 as Asian, 135 as two or more races, and 75 as another race or ethnicity) between the ages of 21 and 65 currently employed full-time or self-employed in white-collar professions, with at least a bachelor’s degree. Data were weighted to be representative of the U.S. population on key demographics (age, sex, education, race/ethnicity, and census division). The base used for statistical testing was the effective base.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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