Getting black women to the top table

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Written by Yetunde Hofmann on 4 November 2021 in Features
Features

Black women are less likely to be involved in strategy says Yetunde Hofmann, here’s how to tackle it 

The black woman is less likely to be involved in strategy within her organisation than her peers. Traditionally, this is because she is excluded from the established echelons of power. A recent report in The Guardian newspaper states only 1.5% of senior positions held in UK businesses today are held by black people and the black woman carries the double burden of facing discrimination on two grounds – her race and her gender. One report released this year shows black women are the least likely of any group to be amongst the UK’s top earners.

However, the black woman is also more likely to be excluded because she is given fewer opportunities to shine and demonstrate the value she can bring to strategy discussions. She is likely to be working in an organisation in which the processes established to help drive the identification, development and advancement of talent are designed and implemented by a predominantly white HR function, albeit in partnership with colleagues across the organisation. No matter how well intended or intentioned, the ability to genuinely appreciate how these processes may hold biases against the minority and the black woman will be lacking.  

She is certainly not excluded because of a lack of education or ambition. The black woman is one of the most educated in our communities,  whether it is in the USA or in the UK, as highlighted in this report.  It is also not due to a lack of ambition or a desire to advance her career, as highlighted in this HBR article.  

When difference is celebrated, and everyone’s contribution is welcome it fosters innovation and lessens the chances of “group think”

Diversity is paramount to competitive advantage and, if an organisation’s strategy is going to succeed, all elements and aspects of the decision-making process must be representative of society and the customers or clients the business serves.  

Here are the ways in which leaders can effect positive change to include the black woman in strategy for the benefit for her and the company’s future.

Hire black women straight into senior roles

If you are a CEO, set an example and establish the tone from the top by actively promoting the black woman’s career advancement so her involvement in strategy is core to her role. Be willing to hire her direct into the c-suite and senior leadership roles, requesting that executive search firms proactively look to put a minimum number of black women candidates on their long and short lists for search projects. In addition to hiring externally into critical decision-making roles, make it imperative to accelerate the development of the black woman in your organisation. If you employ the use of external psychometric assessments and/or external firms in the assessment of potential and ability to do a job at the next level, ensure that the team employed is in itself diverse and that the tools used are based on norm groups that are also diverse.

When your company introduces a high-profile company leadership programme, ensure that the black women in your teams are nominated and are able to attend. Nominate her for external leadership programmes targeted specifically at the black woman and demonstrate an interest in her learning and how this learning can be translated into a win-win for her and the organisation’s strategy development and execution. 

Widen the tent

When managers choose who to bring into strategy discussions, the black woman is often excluded even if she is high performing. Choosing members of your team who are the most outgoing, have a high-performance track record sustained over the years, have the same interests and hobbies can draw you into a place of comfort. Whilst predictability and familiarity have their advantages, the risk is that you exclude the ‘different’ people in your team. This deprives them of opportunities to contribute to strategy and means they don’t have the visibility they need within the company. They will be passed over for promotion and pay rises as a result. 

This also poses a risk to the business. There is nothing more powerful than people with different skills, experiences, backgrounds, cultures and perspectives coming together to develop and execute strategy. When difference is celebrated and everyone’s contribution is welcome it fosters innovation and lessens the chances of “group think”. It also avoids the potentially heavy costs of getting product launches, names and go to market strategies across cultures and geographies wrong. This research report by Deloitte provides powerful insights that enforce this. Very rarely today does any product or service have a homogeneous customer, client and/or consumer base.  To attract and retain your end user the people involved in your strategy must look like them. Make the contribution to strategy and decision making a matter of who it impacts, who can contribute, and the quality of diverse thinking that is enabled – not simply the people you are most used to working closely with. 

Yetunde Hofmann is founder of SOLARIS 

 

 

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