Did you know that 53% of women report feeling lonely because of their jobs?
It’s a reality driven by isolation, lack of support, and the pressure to conform at work. I remember vividly the loneliness I felt when I was the youngest woman of color manager overseeing 300 employees at a previous job.
Thankfully, I had an amazing ex-boss who, even though was not a woman of color herself, was an incredible ally and mentor to me and offered me the resources and support to handle the feelings of loneliness. This experience is all too familiar for many women of color in leadership positions–I’ve seen it plenty working with my own clients as a business and career coach–and it’s something we need to openly discuss to foster improvement to work life.
Progress But Not Perfection
Now, it’s not all bad. Women in leadership overall have made significant strides in leadership roles, but there’s still clearly work to be done. LeanIn.org shares:
“Over the last several years, there have been sizable gains in senior leadership. This is an important step in the right direction and shows what companies can accomplish when they focus their efforts on a well-understood problem.”
Since 2015, there has been a notable increase in the presence of women in executive positions. Specifically, the proportion of women in the C-suite has risen from 17 to 28 percent, marking a significant advancement.
It’s crucial to acknowledge the victories all women have achieved. However, women of color are still unfortunately under-represented in leadership roles (EEOC, 2023) and we can’t ignore the barriers that contribute to the loneliness reported in these roles and the challenges women of color leaders face. Navigating the complex layers of gender and race dynamics for women in the workplace is challenging enough, but when compounded by systemic biases and racial discrimination, it becomes even more daunting, even leeching into personal life.
These barriers, along with the personal struggles of breaking through glass ceilings and bearing the weight of leadership as a woman of color, contribute to the sense of loneliness many women experience–the same sense of loneliness that leads to negative experiences at work.
Loneliness in Leadership
Nearly 70% of women say they feel unsupported and 51% feel isolated at work (TheLi.st, 2023), and unfortunately, those feelings INCREASED as their careers progressed and they rose the ranks. And it’s not the same between women and men. Are you surprised that those same experiences reportedly decrease for men? How are we supposed to make progress in leveling the playing field when it’s so common to have women leaving senior-level positions due to the emotional toll of isolation and even mental health issues?
I’ve seen firsthand in my own work coaching executive leaders. Clients who initially come to me often spend our first sessions trying to describe how they are feeling utterly alone in the workplace. However, through my Business & Career Mastermind program, where we have weekly office hours and retreats, my clients are given the opportunity to share in these struggles with a group of like-minded individuals who also often experience loneliness. It pays to never feel alone, and I’ve witnessed the power of vulnerably sharing our loneliness in community with other women of color by creating a support network.
Solving Loneliness With Community
Throughout my own career experiences and especially within the 6 years of coaching women of color and allies, I’ve clearly seen that community and mentorship can make a tangible difference in overcoming loneliness. It’s a welcome antidote when almost 30% of senior-level women feel like they don’t have anyone to talk to about work and 35% of senior-level women don’t consider themselves part of a community (TheLi.st, 2023).
For women feeling isolated in business or at work, having a safe space to give and also receive feedback is crucial to personal development and in learning to better handle the negative experiences of being an executive leader and women of color. Personally, having mentors who are fellow women of color has given me the confidence to be my authentic self in leadership roles without having to compromise my values, culture, and whole self for the sake of fitting in.
One of the greatest joys I experience is seeing my clients who are women leaders connect with others in my programs and sharing, “It’s so nice to see someone who looks like me,” whether it’s in person or through virtual gatherings like our retreats. The bonds formed in these communities are powerful; they transcend backgrounds and foster growth and support for everyone involved which is exactly why I created my bi-annual retreat for executive leaders and entrepreneurs.
While loneliness may be a common experience for women of color in leadership, it doesn’t have to define our journey and we don’t always have to feel lonely at the top. By fostering communities, embracing mentorship, and creating spaces where we can be our true selves, we can overcome loneliness and thrive in our roles as leaders.
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 through our coaching services! 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.