The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) reported women own more than 11.6 million companies in the United States, employing nearly 9 million people, and generating $1.7 trillion in sales. Of those companies, 46.5% are majority-owned by women of color, employing 2.1 million people and generating $361 billion in revenues annually.
Meanwhile, in corporate America, the percentage of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies fell to 4.8% from 6.4% in 2018. Women still make up only 21% of the seats on corporate boards, even with states like California implementing mandatory diversity quotas for publicly traded organizations. Black women have a particularly hard time ascending to the C-suite; currently, Lisa Wardell, the president and CEO of Adtalem Global Education is the only black woman CEO of an S&P 500 company. And only 1 in 25 C-suite leaders is a woman of color.
These statistics combined with data about continued pay inequity between women and men in the corporate workplace make it difficult for women to see the business case to continue the fight to climb the corporate ladder.
There is a business case for diversity in the workplace. There is no shortage of studies showing leadership teams that include women and people of color result in more innovative and higher revenue-generating organizations. More diverse companies also tend to have higher cash-flow, lower employee turnover, as well as higher customer satisfaction and retention.
Additionally, essential leadership traits cited as necessary for the future of business are more typically associated with women than men. A recent study by the American Management Association shows qualities including empathy; emotional intelligence; listening skills; and a willingness to collaborate with and develop others are traits needed for leadership success in the new world of work. Men are traditionally conditioned to be more rigid, directive, and competitive in their leadership styles, and often struggle with these soft-skills.
For women to gain more access to leadership roles and successfully impact the bottom line of organizations, male allyship in the workplace is important. When men get actively involved in gender inclusion programs, 96% of the organizations see progress in their efforts toward diversity according to Harvard Business Review.
So how can men become better workplace allies to women of color? Suggestions are outlined below.
How to Be a Better Male Ally to Black Women in the Workplace
Understand the difference between diversity and inclusion.
As expert and head of D&I at Netflix, Verna Myers, says “Diversity is being invited to the party, Inclusion is being asked to dance.” It is not enough just to have women as part of your organization (diversity); opportunities for women to lead must be created, and support both their authority and influence when in position must also be provided (inclusion). Without inclusion, the ability to attract more diverse talent and foster the innovation necessary for business growth cannot happen.
Model appropriate behaviors.
Male allies have to lead by example. This means communicating fairly with women and ensuring women’s voices are heard without interruption. This also means praising women for their accomplishments, ensuring they receive full credit for their ideas and contributions, as well as mentoring and making sure women are placed on tracks that will lead to promotion.
Modeling appropriate behaviors means calling out wrong behavior when you notice it in both men and women, too. It means confronting sexist statements and actions, explaining why it is inappropriate, and making it clear sexism will not be tolerated. This also means disallowing gender bias activities to occur in spaces where you have authority and/or influence. For example, do not allow only the women in your office to be responsible for things like cleaning or planning social events or making copies; rotate or spread those kinds of duties around to everyone, even when a woman may be willing to do the work.
Advocate for equal pay and fair workplace policies.
Male allies ensure women receive equal pay for equal work and maintain equity across similar job titles and roles. They create flexible work environments, which allows everyone the ability to complete assigned tasks and projects while respecting the personal needs for time off, regardless of the reason. Male allies focus on outputs and results over hours worked.
Male allies also recognize not all women want or have husbands and children. They create benefits, perks, and advantages for women at work that are not solely associated with being a wife and/or mother. They do not judge or place additional expectations on women based on these decisions. They ensure their workplace policies do not intentionally or unintentionally police women’s bodies or choices¯reproductive or otherwise.
Male allies purposefully network with women. They consume and share content created by women about a wide range of subject matters. They seek professional connections with women and look for ways to mentor and sponsor their career growth. They do not participate knowingly or willingly in events that are likely to discourage or exclude women from participating. Male allies demand for women to be present and properly accounted for in the spaces they occupy because they know women being included makes for better spaces.
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