Black Professional Women Want Top Jobs & Top Dollar, But Hit Glass Ceiling

April 24, 2015  |  

Black women strive for the top. According to a new study, professional African-American women are the most likely to want to land top executive jobs.

The report from the Center for Talent Innovation, a think tank founded by the economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett found that 22 percent of African-American professional women said they seek powerful positions with prestigious titles, compared with just 8 percent of white professional women.

The Black women surveyed were also more confident they can succeed in powerful positions than white women (43 percent compared with 30 percent) and more apt to say high earnings were important to their careers (81 percent versus 54 percent).

In fact, Hewlett said in an interview, the survey revealed that African-American women “were both ambitious and they loved power.”

Desire is one thing. Reality is another. “The number of women holding CEO positions among America’s largest corporations is, as everyone knows, very small. Just 23 women are CEOs of companies in the S&P 500. But the number of female African-American chief executives among those top businesses is downright minuscule: There is only one Black woman, Xerox’s Ursula Burns, at this pinnacle of corporate power,” reports The Washington Post.

Because the desire doesn’t match the reality, the study found that Black women are more frustrated than white women about their corporate climb. Forty-four percent of the African-American women surveyed, compared to 30 percent of the white women, said they felt stalled in their careers. They also felt their talents weren’t being recognized by their managers (26 percent versus 17 percent).

African-American women are judged differently on their job performance. According to other research, they face a bigger challenge than their white peers. “If a Black woman makes a mistake and a white woman makes a mistake — or even a black man makes a mistake — the Black woman is penalized most harshly,” says Robert Livingston, a professor at the University of Sussex who has studied Black women in the workplace, “because she’s two degrees removed from the prototype of a ‘leader,’ which is a white male.”

Unconscious bias, says the CTI report, plays a role in the advancement of Black women’s careers. Prior CTI studies have found that only 11 percent of Black women have a sponsor, versus 13 percent of white women. And mentoring is important for learning how to maneuver in the corporate ranks.

Another obstacle in their careers is single motherhood. Black women are more likely than white women to be single mothers, unmarried or the primary breadwinner in their families. But, says the CTI report, while this may be a challenge it could also be the reason Black women strive for powerful and well-paying positions.

Thoughts on this research?

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