Study highlights bias holding back Black women

A new LSE study and framework calls for action to address the biases that hold back Black women at work.

Woman sits at desk taking an aptitude test

 

Black women in financial and professional services and big tech feel they have to work twice as hard to be noticed or given the same opportunities as their peers, according to a new LSE report.

The report documents the experiences of Black professional women who reported dealing with mediocre managers, who often hire in their own image to reinforce ‘mirrortocracy’ over meritocracy.

One interviewee gave an example of having a secondment into a more senior role during the absence of a colleague and subsequently applying for the permanent position when it became available. She was turned down and told by her manager that she was not ready for the role. However, she was simultaneously asked to train the person who was hired.

The study, led by Erika Brodnock and Dr Grace Lordan from The Inclusion Initiative (TII) at LSE, undertook interviews with 38 Black women at various stages in their career across financial and professional services, in addition to big technology and was motivated by an earlier study which highlighted that Black women have the lowest probability of being among the top earners in the UK.

It also found that 21 women reported the difficulty in being their authentic selves within their organisations.  17 women interviewed mentioned that despite their attempts to conform to their firm’s standards of dress and hair, they still experienced negative encounters with colleagues. For example, one woman spoke about being mistaken for cleaning staff by a colleague when immaculately dressed in a full suit.

Another spoke about being told that they looked far more professional when their hair is worn straight rather than natural. Many interviewees relayed how much energy they spent on a daily basis deciding whether or not to conform. One woman said: “If you are able to show up for work without having to worry about how colleagues or clients judge your natural hair……then that is a privilege you can enjoy. Others can’t.”

Erika Brodnock, Research Officer at The Inclusion Initiative at the London School of Economics and Political Science, stated: “Through the research I have found a most perplexing conundrum: Black women working in Finance, Big Tech and Professional Services are both most visible because they are often the ‘only one’ in the room, while simultaneously being invisible when thinking about their ability to be authentically themselves – frequently feeling as though they do not truly belong in the seat they have so often worked twice as hard to occupy.”

The new report based on qualitative research sponsored by Mastercard, and endorsed by the 30% Club, has led to the creation of the TRANSPARENT framework to help Black women secure more equal opportunities. The framework provides practical steps for companies to adopt and implement to enable tangible change to take place at pace, including cultural awareness training and greater transparency on pay and promotions for Black women.

The TRANSPARENT framework relies on the introduction of several compliance-based mechanisms. Dr Grace Lordan, founder of The Inclusion Initiative and co-author of the study, said: “We expect that the next convergence for Black women will be greatly helped by a ‘what gets measured gets done’ philosophy, with greater transparency through audits and monitoring of pay, promotions and ratings.”



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