DE&I in 2021

By Anna Mok, Ascend

Women in corporate America have made steady strides in advancement, but there continues to be too few women in meaningful leadership roles. Women only earn 84% of what men earn and make up only 24% of the C-suite even after one hundred years since women began the fight for equal rights. 41  In 2021, the pandemic has only amplified gender and racial inequalities, triggering widespread burnout and exposing the disproportionate and adverse effects on vulnerable segments of the workforce. Over the course of the pandemic, women leaders have experienced higher levels of chronic stress and exhaustion than men. While a disproportionate number of women leaders have done more to support their teams and commit to diversity work during an international health crisis, their efforts have often gone unrecognized and thus unrewarded.

Despite these challenges, women have continued to show resilience to push for greater advancement. However, the overall gains that have been made by women in general do not translate into progress in representation for women of color.43  While women overall face barriers when ascending the corporate ladder to managerial positions, a greater percentage of White women have been found to successfully ascend the corporate ladder at a range of 20 to 30 percent while “women of color account for only 4 percent of C-suite leaders, a number that hasn’t moved significantly in the past three years.”44 According to Ascend’s analysis of the latest available EEOC National Workforce data, white executives are overrepresented at the executive level, while all minority races are underrepresented, with Asians and Blacks the least likely to be Executives.45 The study reaffirms that a gender glass ceiling exists in each racial category, with all women experiencing low executive parity. What is important to note is that Asian women and Black women are the least likely to become executives. Women of color face not only a gender glass ceiling, but also a racial glass ceiling.

And while all women are more likely to experience gendered microaggressions, women of color and other marginalized identities are more likely to experience “othering” microaggressions, and at a higher rate. A study found that “Black women are almost four times as likely as White women—and Latinas and Asian women are two to three times as likely—to hear people express surprise at their language skills or other abilities”.46  In addition, LGBTQ+ women and women with disabilities are significantly more likely than women overall to experience microaggressions.

Overall, against the backdrop of cultural movements, such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate, Americans and American businesses have had to confront their country’s poor performance in diversity and inclusion efforts at the leadership level. For example, the percentage of white men at the C-suite in 2021 was almost double the percentage of white men at the entry level, while the percentage of representation of all other groups steadily decreased as they climbed the corporate ladder.

With diversity and representation being given more public attention and continuing demographic shifts, leaders need to actively re-evaluate how their companies are performing with regard to attracting, developing and retaining diverse talent at all levels of the company, particularly at the top. Many studies have shown that companies with better gender and racial diversity have achieved significantly better financial performance. For example, “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry means” while “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians”.48 Furthermore, inclusive teams have been found to make better business decisions up to 87% of the time, and while all-male teams make better business decisions 58% of the time, gender diverse teams have made more successful decisions at a higher rate of 73%.49 It is clear that diversity and inclusion must remain a priority for companies if they wish to meet the demands of consumers, and bring a competitive advantage in a globalized world.

As women overall continue to strive for parity with men in the workplace, companies must adopt a holistic and intersectional approach to help their employees succeed. This means taking a critical and closer look at the data to understand if and how ALL women, including women of color, have a chance at reaching gender parity.