Networking, mentorship and management are key to creating impactful change.
It did not take long for reports of COVID-19’s impact on communities of color—namely disproportionately high rates of infection and mortality, job loss, food and housing insecurity, and more—to swarm at the onset of the pandemic. The data has been illuminating but no surprise to members of these communities as their lives have been impacted by pre-existing socioeconomic disparities for decades. As the hardest hit among them, women of color know this all too well.
From pay inequality to limited access to affordable healthcare and childcare, women of color were already vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic and will not fully recover for years to come according to economists. This reality poses a significant threat to the overall economic well-being of their families given the financial responsibilities women of color carry. According to research from the Center for American Progress, 67.5% of Black mothers and 41.4% of Latina mothers are the primary or sole breadwinners for their families. Further, a study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reveals 67.1% of Native American mothers and 44.2% of Asian and Pacific Islander mothers provide at least 40% of their family’s income.
The long-term impact is not relegated to women of color and their families only. There also are larger implications for the economy given how influential women of color are as a subset of the population; their purchasing power could be a key driver in economic recovery. For example, a Nielsen report reveals that Black women in particular control the majority of the African American community’s $1.2 trillion in spending. It would be fiscally irresponsible to neglect and deprioritize women of color in our recovery efforts. Otherwise, we risk not seeing the full potential of an economic rebound.
Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate this risk. Here are three ways we can start:
Having a strong, diverse network is critical to a woman’s success. In fact, 85% of job placements are funneled through networking. For women of color, these networks help fuel their professional goals and aspirations, making them 2.8 times as likely to aspire to a powerful position with a prestigious title according to Coqual’s Black Women Ready to Lead. Creating more pathways to successful networks for women is the heart of Dress for Success’ mission and a guiding principle in the partnerships we form with companies like AllianceBernstein in honor of initiatives like our 2021 Your Hour, Her Power campaign. These types of strategies will not only be essential in getting women of color back in the workforce but help them thrive as well.
Increase Mentorship and Sponsorship
Mentors and sponsors are equally as important as a strong network in a woman’s career growth. However, access is limited for women of color. A survey by Working Mother Media shows that more than two-thirds of women of color attribute their disenchantment at work to lack of sponsors, mentors, and support from senior-level men, respectively. Additionally, only 26% of Black women say they have had equal access to sponsorship and 59% say they have never had an informal interaction with a senior leader at their company according to a LeanIn.Org study. AllianceBernstein believes in the power of mentorship and recognizes its impact as part of a comprehensive toolbox to support and propel women forward. A successful increase of mentorship and sponsorship in any organization requires a multifaceted approach. One approach we take at AllianceBernstein includes a Women’s Leadership Council, which is a development group dedicated to catapulting more women into senior leadership positions.
Redesign How Women of Color Are Managed
Countless studies have shed light on the toll the pandemic has taken on our mental and emotional health as our professional and personal lives intersect. Managers have been challenged to lead with greater empathy and flexibility. However, the experience among women of color is starkly different from their counterparts. A Coqual survey highlights that while 73% of white women said they felt their managers extended satisfactory help and support when they had personal issues, only 57% of Black women did. Further, Leanin.Org’s study reveals Black women self-reported that only one in three managers have checked in on them (i.e., connected privately to gauge their status, condition, or well-being) during the pandemic. These insights are likely based on the various race and gender-based biases women of color face in the workplace, but managers must make a concerted effort to rethink and redesign their approach to managing women of color to ensure they feel supported and positioned for success.
As we move toward recovery and stabilization, organizations in the public and private sectors must recognize that intentionality matters, and it is essential in supporting women of color with these and other strategies. Keeping in mind that diversity and inclusion is a journey rather than a destination, we must use our collective power to drive real, tangible change through consistent commitment and action. This requires employers to listen and know when to assess, correct, and pivot their strategies to offer support to all employees, especially in their efforts to uplift women of color. Together, we can start to create impactful change that benefits everyone.