Advancing African American Women in the Workplace

Advancing African American Women in the Workplace

Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth has become a household name to millions of Americans who watched NBC’s The Apprentice. Unfortunately, she gained notoriety for behavior that projects the most negative stereotypes of black females: angry, conniving, defensive, and impossible to work with. But Manigault-Stallworth’s situation represents an even more harsh reality in this country: African American women are not advancing as far in corporate America as their white, Asian, and Latina counterparts. The biggest barriers they face are negative, race-based stereotypes; more frequent questioning of their credibility and authority; and a lack of institutional support, according to the Catalyst survey Advancing African American Women in the Workplace: What Managers Need to Know.

Even though African American women represent an important and growing source of talent, they currently represent only 1.1% of corporate officers in Fortune 500 companies, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advisory firm with offices in New York City and San Jose, California. Experiencing a double outsider status — unlike white women or African American men — African American women report exclusion from informal networks and conflicted relationships with white women among the challenges they face.

Keys to success cited by survey respondents include exceeding performance expectations, communicating effectively, connecting with mentors, and building positive relationships with managers and colleagues. The survey’s findings were based on quantitative findings of a group of African American women at Fortune 1000 companies and qualitative findings from focus groups of entry- and mid-level African American women, more than 50% of whom hold a graduate degree.

While approximately 75% of Fortune 500 companies have formal diversity programs, only 33% of the women surveyed believe these programs effectively create supportive environments and only 36% say these programs foster respect for their cultural background.