Executive Allyship for Black Women

The focus on social injustice has created a unique stir. As a result, organizations are working to clarify the effects within their walls and plot a way forward.

Women, and in particular Black women, face the unwanted impact of bias on their careers.

According to the McKinsey & Company/Lean In Women in the Workplace 2019 Report, Black women are most likely to deal with micro-aggressions, and least likely to advance to higher level leadership positions.

Micro-aggressions At-a-Glance

Micro-aggressions are subtle, routine slights that signal a bias toward a targeted person or group. Add to that an innate desire to partner with others who share something in common with oneself, such as life experiences, education, or appearance.

Together, these actions erode an inclusive, equitable workplace. And, they present a monumental challenge for Black women to overcome.

Black women are emotionally spent. While engaging in conversations hoping for real listening and visible change, there is silence as organizations work to launch enterprise-wide initiatives. 

Executive Leaders Create the Climate for Change

Although each staff member is a stakeholder in change, the C-suite and senior leaders create the tone for an authentic culture of diversity, inclusion, and equality. 

While ushering in broad change, executive leaders can act now. It begins with mindset as executives become deliberate allies for Black women who are direct reports and for those within their downline organizational structures. 

Right-Now Executive Leadership Actions

Take a pulse check of personal micro-aggression and affinity tendencies. 

Micro-aggressions and having a preference for those who share similarities to oneself begin with thoughts. The manifestation emerges in words and actions.

And, Black women are doubly exposed to micro-aggressions and affinities because of race and gender.

While many women experience micro-aggressions, navigating recurring incidents is emotionally taxing to Black women who manage negative stereotypes all the time.

Some signals that indicate slights within a racial and gender context include – 

  • A seemingly harmless compliment – “You’re so articulate” – expresses a surprise that she is a highly competent communicator.
  • She is talked over during meetings.
  • When stating a viable course of action, it is ignored, unless someone who is similar to the executive communicates or affirms the action.  
  • Leaders of equal level greet each other with a handshake, yet the Black woman is ignored. She is neither welcomed at the table nor seen as being at the same level of others who hold similar job titles.

For many Black women, micro-aggressions are wide-spread in the workplace. Individually viewed, the behaviors seem small. But, repeated slights and subtle insults impact the work experience. These can affect emotional and intellectual connection to the organization.

Practice allyship.

Black women operate under the “Angry Black Woman” stereotype. If she were to address each slight that happens, it would nurture the stereotype and hinder her career growth.

Be an ally. Don’t remain silent when unfairness occurs – when you see something, do something, say something. 

Choose the time and place to address the issue, but manage it timely. Actively promote diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Have a genuine career conversation.

Act with purpose. Talk with Black women who are your direct reports about their careers. In doing so, there’s an opportunity to create a powerful business rapport as you learn more about her career, goals, and ambitions. Equally vital, ensure that leaders within your span of control take similar actions.

Consider the following as you engage in an interactive, ongoing dialogue –

  • Gain a glimpse into the values and life events that shape your approaches to doing business. 
  • Identify links in your careers and interests, creating triggers for ongoing career dialogue.
  • Honestly affirm her strengths. 
  • Exhibit grit in surfacing, with good intent, what could stand in the way of her desired career growth. 
  • Commit to working together, co-creating and backing her career development. 

What makes this conversation work?  Authenticity and trust. 

Build a bridge and vision for the future. Invest in Black women’s career growth and success. Move from talking to becoming an active sponsor or mentor.

Next Step Actions – Sponsor and Mentor

While it’s typical that sponsors surface as a natural process, Black women may not gain that support as easily or as quickly as their peers. 

Consider sponsoring the Black woman as the business relationship develops. Use your position of power to advocate for her. Doing so will create a win, win for the organization and your team member.

While a sponsor opens doors to career breaks, a mentor offers how-to professional insight and advice . Be willing to establish an ongoing mentoring relationship that could include leadership development.

A Call to Action

Change begins now. What will you do today to make a difference?  

Contact us for a Discovery consultation.

Lillian Davenport, SPHR, SHRM – SCP, CTACC, Principal, End View Solutions, LLC

Lillian Davenport is a coach, consultant, and women’s leadership strategist. Her leadership program, THE END VIEW FLAME SYSTEM, guides women in bringing together their talents, strengths, and executive presence to experience a thriving career.

Lillian’s career as a human resources leader includes roles at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Woodforest National Bank, and American International Group, Inc. (AIG), where she leveraged employee relations, and diversity, equity, and inclusion expertise in leadership development.