5 diversity and inclusion issues hindering women of color from getting leadership roles in the workplace

Guest Contributor
6 min read
Diversity and inclusion issues hindering women of color from getting leadership roles in the workplace
About the author: Sheena Yap Chan is a keynote speaker, coach, podcaster, consultant, and author on building self-confidence. She currently inspires women through her award-winning podcast called The Tao of Self Confidence where she interviews Asian women about their inner journey to self-confidence. Her mission is to help Asian Women boost their confidence to live their authentic selves, create a voice in the world, and create a stronger representation for the community.

Sheena has been featured on MindValley, Slice.ca, Marketing in Asia, Manila Times and more. She is also the TOP 100 Filipinos to follow on LinkedIn for inspiration and learning in 2020. Sheena will be launching a book in 2023 on the topic of Asian Women Leadership and is also the co-author of the International bestselling book Asian Women Who Boss Up. You can visit her online at her sheenayapchan.com or on LinkedIn (Sheena Yap Chan)

Too often, women of colour face discrimination and are abandoned from leadership roles. Racial and gender biases create barriers to progress & development, and the intersection of those systemic inequalities have an enormous impact on women of color.

While women are advancing in the management and leadership roles since the last few years, we still face many barriers. Women, explicitly women of color are tremendously underrepresented across corporate leadership.

A recent report from Catalyst.org shared the representation of women of color in management roles in the US in 2021 and the numbers are definitely appalling.

Caucasian women represented 32.6% in management roles in 2021 and women of color was only a fraction of this number. As per the women ethnicity chart

  • Asian women: 2.7%.
  • Black women: 4.4%.
  • Hispanic women: 4.3%.

Another report by Builtin and Zippia shows the handful percentage of Women of Color in C-suite roles.

  • Women of Color account for 4% of C-Suite leaders
  • Less than 1% Fortune 500 CEOs are Women of Color
Women of color in leadership roles

Representation does matters! New generations of leaders (Gen Z & Millennials) are inspired seeing women of color in leadership roles as they see a path for themselves and highly value diversity, equity and inclusion in workplaces.

But statistics show the overall representation of women of color is either mildly invisible or even at times neglected. Let’s look at the major reasons as to why this is happens in today's time.

1) Lack of diversity in hiring

After so much progress, companies still have a lot of work to do around creating cultures and employee engagement strategies that fully embrace diversity.

There are many companies who are hiring to fill in the diversity gaps in their organization. But, their intentions are not rock solid as they do not have proper process in place to create an environment free of racism to create a sustainable company culture. They hire women of color to fill a certain quota primarily to be considered as a diverse company.

The hiring percentage is usually very minimal making many women of color in high positions feel like they are the “Diversity Hire” because they tick all the boxes that companies need in order to say they are allies of diversity.  

Diversity hire - women of color

2) Lack of inclusivity at the workplace

At times, companies that are highly committed to diversity and inclusiveness in their workplace also fail to make women of color feel comfortable.

As a chain reaction, from an inclusion point of view, this creates unwillingness amongst them to make themselves emotionally vulnerable with their peers. When you become the only woman of color in a management or leadership position, it can be very lonely.

You get back handed compliments such as “You are so lucky to be the only Asian woman to get this leadership role.”  You also get funny looks by your peers, anything you say gets questioned by your peers and the feeling of taking a seat at the table is gone.  

Lack of inclusion at the workplace

3) Presence of negative diversity stereotypes at workplace

Pervasive stereotype not only characterizes women of color with negative attributes, but also holds them back from recognizing their full skill set and talent in the workplace hampering their overall employee engagement, and this further leads to less opportunities of promotion to senior leadership roles.

Asian women are usually seen as quiet, submissive and obedient and Hispanic women are seen as too spicy or are seen as not part of the American workforce.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says Black women make up nearly 7% of the workforce, and still, they are severely underrepresented in leadership positions, especially among CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. This is because black women are seen as overbearing, hostile and aggressive and this stereotype holds black women back from leadership roles more than any other women of color.

Negative stereotypes against women of color

4) Gaslighting women of color at workplace

When women of color gets promoted to leadership roles, it’s not always the perfect scenario as oftentimes women of color are abused physically and emotionally by their peers. This phenomenon results in lower engagement, self doubt, confusion and eventually they end up quitting because they cannot handle the abuse they are receiving.

A recent report of  The State of Black Women in Corporate America suggests, 49% of Black women feel unequal opportunities at their workplaces due to their race or ethnicity. This is a boundary where women of color stand every day, and it is the boundary that becomes extremely difficult to cross when you’re ‘the only’ in the room.

Gaslighting women of color at the workplace

5) Mispronunciation of names being a key aspect of discrimination

Yes, it’s astonishing that women of color get excluded from leadership positions based on their names. Asian women for example would less likely get promoted due to their Asian name alone.  

Most times, Asian women have to change their name to an English name just to get a job because companies do not take the time to pronounce their actual Asian name and most people think it's a joke to mispronounce an Asian person’s name but this is really hurtful.

A person’s name is their identity, and allowing someone to mispronounce it is stripping them of that. The changing of people's names has a long back history to it.

For instance, the renaming during slavery for Latinx communities and indigenous communities, ties a lot of history to this practice directly attaching to racism.

Mispronunciation of names

How can we improve diversity and inclusion for women of color at the workplace?

These are just some of the reasons as to why Women of Color are advancing in leadership roles at a slower rate. Undoubtedly, women are more likely than men to have their capabilities and expertise questioned, hindering their authority. Women of color and other women with traditionally marginalized identities are more likely to face more discourteous and bad behavior affecting their mental wellness at workplace.

Thus, to drive change, companies need to deeply participate in all aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion for their workplaces and design strategies to build a solid foundation for their organizations.

Leaders must invest in creating cultures that fully leverage the benefits of diversity, which makes women, and all employees, feel equally comfortable in sharing their unique ideas, perspectives, and experiences with their fellow team members.

When women are treated with equality and respected and valued for their contributions, they are more likely to be engaged and satisfied in their jobs building a stronger connect with their coworkers.

The views and opinions shared in this blog are solely those of the original author.
Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor