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Women are half of the workforce and hold more college degrees than men, but they remain underrepresented and underpaid at every level—with women of color struggling the most.
Women of color have long fought to overcome unique challenges when it comes to employment. Despite their efforts, they still face job inequalities that their white and male counterparts often aren’t even aware of.
Are you interested in what your organization can do to support women of color in the workplace? In this article, we’ll discuss the obstacles women of color face and what you can do to ensure a more equitable work environment for all employees.
Rather than blatant, outright racism, women of color in the workplace continue to face a more insidious and subtle form of discrimination: microaggressions. The term “microaggression” was coined by American psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce in his 1970 book The Black Seventies, in which he, writing about microaggressions, states:
"Most offensive actions are not gross and crippling. They are subtle and stunning. The enormity of the complications they cause can be appreciated only when one considers that these subtle blows are delivered incessantly. ... The cumulative effect to the victim and to the victimizer is of an unimaginable magnitude."
Microaggressions can be tricky to understand and difficult to curtail. By their definition, they are small. They can be verbal, behavioral or even environmental assaults that make marginalized groups feel even more marginalized. Because they are “small,” it’s easy for outsiders to ignore them or diminish their impact.
But the harmful effects of racial microaggressions are real.
Examples of microaggressions in the workplace that women of color might deal with include:
While microaggressions may be well-intentioned, their impact is still negative: leaving women of color with the ever-present reminder that they’re still seen as “less than” or “other” no matter how hard they work.
Unless you are a woman of color, it’s likely you don’t know the full scope of inequalities and challenges they face. Open up a discussion about it on your team, and encourage everyone to examine their own biases. We all have unconscious biases that, by their very nature, we are unaware of.
It doesn’t have to be formal or lengthy. For example, you can give a presentation about it at your next all-hands meeting and outline the steps you’re taking to fight inequality in your organization. It’s also a great idea to invite others’ input and ideas.
Dr. Jia Wang, a Texas A&M University professor who studies workplace incivility, suggests creating "behavior statements.”
"If I was holding a workshop session, I would have [an employer] sit down and brainstorm as many statements as they could,” Dr. Wang told ScienceDaily. “I would have them think about things they have observed and experienced and what they would consider uncivil.”
In your employee handbook, outline a clear process for reporting violations or filing grievances.
Setting policies is nice, but you need to ensure that you enforce them. Once you decide on the process for handling grievances, follow through on investigations and consequences.
Start by analyzing how much time and resources are being given to white men in your organization versus women of color. Do what you can to rectify any differences.
Also, conduct a pay audit to determine if there are women of color on your team who are getting paid less than your male employees with the same capabilities. If you find an unfair wage gap, correct it.
Women of color in the workplace face a myriad of challenges that white men do not. Because of this, it can be harder for them to get noticed. It can be harder for women of color to even pursue their dream career because, as we saw earlier, microaggressions in college can discourage them from pursuing STEM.
That’s why it’s essential to actively recruit women of color. Now, this does not mean hiring a woman of color simply because she is a woman of color (AKA a “token hire”)—but because of all the talent and experience she has to bring that often gets overlooked.
Need a real-life example? Canva, the makers of a graphic design platform, ramped up their diversity and inclusion efforts by doing things like:
In the past several decades, women in the workplace have made great strides—but we still have a lot of work ahead of us, especially for women in minority groups. It is not equitable when someone with the same level of education, experience and skill sets as their white male counterpart receives lower pay, gets promoted less and can’t snag a leadership position.
So what can you do going forward? Pick one of the suggestions in this article for supporting women of color in the workplace. Talk to your colleagues. Take a good hard look at how your organization operates. Have difficult discussions. And make those tough changes. Only by doing these things can we all pave the way for a more just, ethical and prosperous workplace for everyone.