Moving the Needle Forward for the Black Worker Experience

As we look back at Black History Month, we examine how employers can be strategic players in moving the needle forward for representation and opportunity in the workplace.

This month was Black History Month in the United States, a time for individuals and organizations to look at and learn from the Black experience across time and place, including the present, where opportunities for Black workers continue to be met with barriers. Recent research illustrates this point, further demonstrating how employers can be strategic players in moving the needle forward for Black representation and opportunities in the workplace.

Barriers to Opportunity for Black Workers

Research released this week shows that overall, Black workers are not located in places where current job opportunities are or where growth is expected into 2030. Almost half of Black workers are in three industries with dominant frontline presence (healthcare, retail, and accommodation & food service) with significant underrepresentation in high-growth and high-wage industries. Of those in the private sector, forty-three percent make less than $30,000 a year.

What this data represents is the existence of barriers to opportunity that create stark disparities in the Black worker experience. The research went on to examine the Black worker experience in depth, with data showing that despite variability across the research’s participating companies, Black employees face five common challenges:

  • Frontline jobs, where Black workers have a significant presence, are not a launching pad for steady, salaried careers, with one frontline salaried position for every 20 frontline hourly jobs.
  • Attrition is high for Black workers in entry-level jobs, leaving a gap in opportunity to retain skilled Black employees.
  • Black representation at the managerial level is severely low due to a broken rung from entry-level to managerial roles.
  • There’s a trust deficit between Black employees and their employers, with 41% less likely to view promotions as fair, and 39% less likely to believe that their company’s DE&I programs are effective than their white counterparts.
  • Black employees lack sponsorship and allyship to support their career advancement.

In addition to these realities, it’s important to take an even closer, nuanced look at the Black worker experience. Consider the working, Black mother or mother of color, who in a recent study rated the impact of COVID-19 on their ability to advance their careers as 15% more negative than white working mothers. In that survey of 1,500 mothers to see how their working experiences across racial demographics during COVID-19 varied, the pandemic had working mothers of color pressing pause, and feeling stuck. It’s also important to remember that nearly 80% of the 346,000 workers who vanished from the U.S. labor force in January are women, while the unemployment rate rose to 8.5% for Black women aged 20 and older.

Moving the Needle Forward

One fact should remain top of mind for employers: at current trajectory, it will take 95 years for Black employees to reach talent parity across all levels of the private sector. But, that number could be cut to 25 years if companies focus on addressing the systemic barriers for Black talent. Consider this the “equity” portion of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), or the process through which barriers to opportunity and representation are thoroughly examined and transformed. Employers must prioritize interventions where necessary, track progress to enhance accountability, and share best practices to help move the needle forward.

When combined with diversity and inclusion, efforts to achieve equity not only move an organization forward, but move society forward as well. While this information is specific to the U.S. context, employers must continue to think globally, imagining the possibilities for employee opportunities and successes across all lines of identities and experiences around the world. And with Black History Month coming to a close, the conversations must continue throughout the year to ensure progress rolls forward, advancing the human experience along the way.

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