The systemic obstacles that African-American women face begin from birth to death. Over the next several months, I will be sharing a series embarking on how institutionalized and outdated beliefs and systems are impacting the potential revenue, cash flow, and profit for African-American women founders and lifetime earnings for African-American corporate leaders. I shared the concerning statistics that there are currently not any African-American CEOs of Fortune 500 S&P Companies last week. This week, I embark on the journey of how working hard to have the proper credentials for the C-Suite put African-American women at a huge competitive disadvantage from the moment they graduate college and accept their first job offer.
According to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, African-American women have by far the most outstanding student debt after college compared to white women and white men. According to the study, African-American women amass $30,400 by college graduation while white male graduates have an average of $22,000 in student loan debt.
In addition to amassing more student loan debt, African-American women are also paid 39% less than their white male counterparts and 21% less than white women. This leads to approximately $950,000 of lifetime potential income being left on the table. There are many factors that lead to this including lack of salary negotiation, not having access to sponsors, and doors not being opened to high profile opportunities when the aspirations and ambitions for leadership roles are clearly made known.
When a leader doing the same job is making 39% less than her white male counterpart, this sets the race to C-suite at a huge competitive disadvantage. For example, being able to provide for her family, adequate retirement savings, paying for healthcare, and disposable income suffer at a disproportionate rate.
When it comes to Harvey Coleman’s concept of PIE, performance accounts for 10% of long-term success, image accounts for 30%, and exposure accounts for 60%. Most African-American women are remaining in roles where they are the worker bees or performers and not being given opportunities to gain exposure on roles that lead to the C-suite such as running business units. Why is this? The purpose of this series is to not just to state the problems, but to advocate for those who want to bring solutions to the table.
When African-American women are tired of trying to advance in a system that does not seem to open sustainable doors for them beyond the Manger level, they exit Corporate America to start their own business. Unfortunately, most African-American women are not funded and are instead ‘bootstrapping’ their businesses by using their personal savings and retirement savings. With African-American women receiving .4% of VC funding last year and raising only an average of $36,000 during her friends and family round, it’s a vicious revolving door. Many have to go back to Corporate America to experience the same challenges due to their business becoming a statistic. It’s not due to not having a viable MVP, but instead access to appropriate resources and funding.
When I watch the Daytona 500, I see the commitment for each driver to win the race. No matter how talented you are as a professional race car driver, if you have to start 250 laps behind your competition, you will never catch up. This comparison seems harsh, but is truly the narrative for African-American women. Will the playing field be narrowed overnight…absolutely not! Can we expedite closing the gap by advancing the work beyond a conversation and holding leaders accountable for a sustainable pipeline that is both equitable and inclusive? It’s going to take all of us working together. I invite you to move beyond the conversation today!
What can you do to bring attention to this matter?
- Take time to sponsor a high potential African-American female leader from the moment that she joins Corporate America
- Take a page from the Robert F. Smith’s playbook and create funds to pay off college debt
- Advocate for your company building a diverse pipeline of talent to the C-Suite
- Send underrepresented leaders to Pitch University so that they can learn their unique value proposition and how to position themselves for C-Suite opportunities. Learn additional details at pitchuniversity.com/corporate
If you would like to be a part of the conversation, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find out more about my work at monicamotivates.com.