A recent study from McKinsey & Co. and nonprofit Lean In found that women of color across all professional sectors are the least likely demographic to get promoted from entry-level to first-time manager (Mckinsey & Co; Lean In, 2023).
As a business and career coach for women of color, I’ve unfortunately seen this reality play out in real time for my clients, which is why I was interviewed by HuffPost on this study and how to navigate this disparity at work. Even when we do receive promotions and work our way into senior management positions, we still need to be extremely strategic in order to overcome barriers which still stand in our way as women in leadership roles.
Let’s be real, us millennial women of color are making waves, breaking barriers, and leading from the front. I see it all the time with my client’s success stories. However, let’s face it – it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. When it comes to holding leadership positions, we encounter unique challenges that often feel like stumbling blocks. Let’s dive deep into these hurdles and explore how we can not just face them but empower ourselves as leaders despite the challenges.
Gender Bias and Unconscious Bias:
Being a woman of color in a leadership role means we often find ourselves navigating a maze of biases, both conscious and unconscious, that can hinder our progress. From gender bias to racial stereotypes, these impact our daily experiences in the workplace–from being interrupted during meetings to being overlooked for promotions, or even project assignments. And an even more specific aspect of gender bias in the workplace is performance bias, which requires women to do more work than their male counterparts to receive the same acknowledgements.
Despite these challenges, the resilience of female employees shines bright and it’s crucial to acknowledge and address these issues collectively. We need tailored approaches. Awareness campaigns within organizations can foster understanding and empathy and customized diversity training programs can educate our colleagues about the unique challenges women leaders face. Mentorship initiatives, specifically designed for women of color, can provide guidance, support, and valuable insights to help them reach their full potential.
Work-Life Balance Struggles
One of the biggest challenges we encounter is finding the balance between our professional commitments and personal responsibilities. As women of color the intersectionality of our identities adds layers of complexity. Balancing cultural and familial expectations with professional responsibilities is a tightrope walk, often taking a toll on our emotional well-being. We often carry the weight of cultural expectations, caregiving duties, and community involvement alongside our careers.
I work with clients who juggle being a business owner, mom, partner, and human being. I often hear from my clients that they struggle with shutting off from work at 5 PM to start cooking or taking care of their kids. Or I hear about the guilt they carry for not being able to show up energetically for their loved ones after working long hours. This delicate juggling act can lead to burnout and emotional exhaustion.
The antidote? On the organization side, Implementing family-friendly policies, including paid family leave and accessible childcare facilities, can significantly ease this burden that female leaders face. Not to mention, employers need to better understand that employees are human beings first. In my own business, my assistant asked to move to a 4 day work week so that she could align her schedule with her partner’s after over a year of no time off together. Supportive workplace environments that recognize and accommodate our cultural and familial obligations contribute to a healthier work-life balance. On the personal side? Get comfortable setting and enforcing boundaries in the workplace.
Imposter Syndrome and Self-Confidence
Imposter syndrome, that persistent feeling of being a fraud despite our accomplishments, is a battle that many of us face in the workplace and beyond and is particularly insidious for women of color in leadership roles. Conquering this internal struggle requires a multifaceted approach rooted in self-awareness, mentorship, and building unshakable confidence. Self-awareness is a powerful antidote to imposter syndrome within female leadership. Engaging in introspective practices such as journaling, mindfulness, or therapy can help you identify negative self-talk patterns and challenge irrational beliefs. As much as you can, embrace your accomplishments, speak to your struggles, and seek mentorship from role models you trust.
Need a little inspo? Watch this video of my client Carla who overcame challenges to get a $300k C-Suite job.
Limited Access to Senior Leadership Networks
Unfortunately, women in the workplace have been excluded from senior leadership networks and leadership development for generations, which only means we’re still at a disadvantage today. Centuries-old male dominance and unconscious biases create formidable barriers. Limited female representation in top roles compounds the problem, hindering mentorship and networking opportunities.
While organizations have the responsibility to address the systemic issues at play in the workplace that block professional women from accessing better networking opportunities, seeking out opportunities for yourself outside of work can be a huge benefit. The lack of community opportunities for women of color is exactly why I created my mastermind for women of color and allies who own businesses or are in leadership positions at work. I also host two Color Your Dreams retreats where my clients create community together, connect and support each other, and even end up hiring each other. Seeking out networking spaces specifically designed for women of color can help bridge the gap for female leaders.
Empowering Women to Lead
In conclusion, the journey for women of color in leadership is undeniably challenging, yet our resilience remains unmatched. While we focus on personal strategies to overcome hurdles, organizations bear the responsibility to address systemic issues.
As we navigate our paths, let’s support one another, celebrate our victories, and persist in breaking barriers. Together, we form an unstoppable force reshaping the narrative. Our individual strength, combined with systemic change, paves the way for a more inclusive and empowering future. Here’s to our collective efforts in transforming the landscape.
If you would like further support in your career, business, or leadership, my team and I would love to support you in creating a sustainable life! You can schedule a 30-minute legacy business or career review call with me to see if it’s a good fit to work together, and you’ll receive 3 action-items from me.