Women struggle to find a job where diversity is under attack - GulfToday

Women struggle to find a job where diversity is under attack

With attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives raging on, Black women looking to climb the work ladder are seeing a landscape that looks more hostile than ever. AP

Charity Wallace (left) and Chassity Coston pose in Harvard Yard at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. AP

egina Lawless hit a professional high at 40, becoming the first director of diversity and inclusion for Instagram. But after her husband died suddenly in 2021, she pondered whether she had neglected her personal life and what it means for Black woman to succeed in the corporate world. While she felt supported in the role, “there wasn’t the willingness for the leaders to take it all the way,” Lawless said. “Really, it’s the leaders and every employee that creates the culture of inclusion.” This inspired her venture, Bossy and Blissful, a collective for Black female executives to commiserate and coach each other on how to deal with misogynoir, a specific type of misogyny experienced by Black women, or being the only person of colour in the C-suite. “I’m now determined to help other women, particularly women of colour and Black women, to see that we don’t have to sacrifice ourselves for success. We can find spaces or create our own spaces where we can be successful and thrive,” said Lawless, who is based in Oakland, California.

Many women in Lawless’ group have no workplace peers, making them the “Onlys” — the only Black person or woman of colour — which can lead to feelings of loneliness or isolation. “Getting together helps us when we go back and we’re the ‘only-lonelies’ in a lot of our organizations,” Lawless said. With attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives raging, Black women looking to climb the corporate ladder face a more hostile landscape than ever. Aside from having to constantly prove themselves and talk in a manner that can’t be labeled as angry or emotional, obtaining top managerial positions doesn’t stop the double dilemma of racial and gender pay gaps.

“Yes, we’re going to continue to be scorned as Black people, as Black women. It’s going to continue to happen. But we can’t allow that,” Coston said. “I’m speaking from my strength right now because that wasn’t always how I felt in my stages of grief. We have to continue to fight just like Rosa (Parks), just like Harriet (Tubman),” said Wallace.

The backlash to DEI efforts is only amplified with clashes over identity politics. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure bid at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill stalled in 2021 because of her work with the 1619 Project, a collection of essays on race. The 2022 confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman confirmed to the Supreme Court, drew criticism for their harsh and race-based questioning.

President Joe Biden emphatically stating he only would consider a Black woman for the high court deepened resentment toward DEI, said Johnny Taylor, CEO of The Society for Human Resource Management. “Contrast and compare a CEO standing in front of his workplace or her workplace saying, ‘I’m only gonna consider, the next candidates will only be this,’” Taylor said. “That created some real tension.” Black women are questioning whether it’s even worth trying for top positions, said Portia Allen-Kyle, chief advisor at social justice organisation Color of Change. Extreme scrutiny and online vitriol are high prices to pay. “What I’ve heard from quite a few Black women — family, friends and otherwise — is a little bit of feeling of frustration at the idea that excellence is not enough,” Allen-Kyle said. “The ‘Work twice as hard, be twice as good ... maybe you’ll be able to be accepted on your merit.’ That lesson that maybe that’s not the case is hard and frustrating and disappointing all around.” The number of Black women in the workforce is in danger of shrinking because of a lack of support and opportunities, according to advocates.

Black women comprise 7.4% of the US population but they occupy only 1.4% of C-suite positions and 1.6% of senior vice-president roles, according to a 2020 report from Lean In, “The State of Black Women in Corporate America.” US Census data shows Black women working year-round and full-time in 2021 made 69 cents for every dollar a white man got. Meanwhile, white women made 80 cents on the dollar. Lawless, who left Instagram/Meta in August, thinks more Black women will decide to be their own boss rather than enter a traditional workplace.

“There’s going to be a chilling effect and you’re going to see more Black women pivot and go into entrepreneurship, which we’re already doing at higher rates,” Lawless said. “Corporations have a real problem. They’ve lost more women at the director and above level since the pandemic.” Even self-made businesses cannot avoid DEI resistance. The Fearless Fund, a small venture capital firm, is embroiled in a lawsuit accusing a grant program for Black women-owned companies of discrimination. The litigation has scared away potential investors, according to the firm’s founders. Job openings for diversity officers and similar positions have declined in recent months. The combined share of venture capital funding for businesses owned by Black and Latina women has dipped back to less than 1% after briefly surpassing that threshold — at 1.05% — in 2021, according to the nonprofit advocacy group digitalundivided. Stephanie Felix, of Austin, Texas, just started her own DEI consulting firm in January. It’s not something the 36-year-old, who worked in DEI for company review website Glassdoor, initially saw for herself. “People say there’s risk in leaving but there’s also a lot of risk in staying,” Felix said.

Colleagues, family and even Felix herself had reservations about her career leap. But she said she has too often seen DEI hires go from “office pet to office threat.” Their arrival was heralded as a new chapter, but senior leaders wouldn’t come through with promised resources or authority to effect change. “I applaud women that choose to step away and choose themselves. I applaud myself for it too,” Felix said. “Even though it’s not easy, it gives you more sovereignty over your life which is, in my mind, definitely worth it.”

Associated Press


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