Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DE&I) programs have become more common, but results of a recent survey of Women of Color (WOC) suggests that many of these programs are ineffective.
The survey, PowHER Redefined: Women of Color Reimagining the World of Work, from the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, surveyed 1,500-plus Black, Asian, and Latina women “on why current corporate systems fail to enable them to reach their full potential.” The study also included discussions among WOC and white women to identify solutions.
As a white woman, I have noticed the difference between what men in business have to do to prove their value and what women have to do. I have seen myself the disparities in workload, and how work performance is perceived. The men I have observed in my career are more likely to have junior employees hired as support and less likely to be pushed to justify their position by the amount of work they personally complete. I have observed this difference in workload, and in how work performance is evaluated, even in the senior ranks of a company. I have observed how much more hands-on work, for instance, one female vice president of a company has to do compared to her male peers.
For WOC, there is an even steeper hill to climb in proving their value. According to the survey, “70 percent of WOC agree we have to prove ourselves over and over and over and over again.” To a lesser degree, I can relate. It seems like white men come with a greater perceived inherent value, so just by virtue of their identity, they are perceived as being more valuable, and, therefore, don’t have to do as much to prove their value to the company. For that reason, they also are perceived as being worthy of a higher salary.
As much as I have noticed this difference in perceived value and ability to get a fair salary, WOC have noticed it much more. “WOC are 25 percent less likely than white women to say they are rewarded fairly,” according to the survey. Twenty percent of WOC are less likely than white women “to agree we have the resources needed to advance our career.” Nineteen percent are less likely than white women “to feel our skills are valued in the workplace.”
With the kinds of feelings expressed by WOC in the survey, the next question becomes: How well are DE&I programs working? Some 97 percent of WOC “agree companies must establish better processes to investigate racism and discrimination at work.” Ninety-five percent “agree it’s important to create safe spaces.” The survey report describes such safe spaces as “spaces to address the trauma we experience at work and mental health resources to repair the damage.”
Those “safe spaces” remind me of mentoring relationships, in which a person with an identity, or background, similar to your own, acts as a sounding board and support system. For that to happen, a company would need significant WOC representation as managers and executives. That leads me to another question: How do you measure DE&I success? Is it having a certain percentage of managers and executives be WOC? Is it having the salary of WOC commensurate with white women at the company, and then for female employees as a whole to have salaries commensurate with male employees?
What about the opportunity factor and setting-up-for-failure phenomenon? For instance, a company might give a white male employee the same salary and responsibilities as a WOC employee, but the white male employee gets much greater support. He gets the junior employee to help with the workload, or the workload is shared with another employee or a freelancer—or even the boss. Bosses sometimes have a “horse in the race” they’re rooting for, and will do what they can—personally sometimes—to see that their horse wins. So, however it happens, the white male employee gets greater support, and thereby has his time freed up to pursue higher-level assignments and participate in executive meetings. It also becomes easier for him to travel to conferences and network in the industry. In other words, the company has given him and a WOC employee the same job role and the same salary, but through the greater support he receives, he has the opportunity for greater growth.
When measuring the success of DE&I programs, it’s important to consider both the positions and salaries minorities such as WOC receive, but also whether they are being set up for success equal to others.
Does your organization have a DE&I program? If not, why not? If so, how do you measure its success?