Black women in leadership: Study presents recommendations for conscious inclusion
Invisibility and racism are some words that shape the obstacles faced by black female executives in the job market. A study carried out by Dilma Campos – the CEO and founding partner of Outra Praia and head of environmental, social and corporate governance at B&Partners.co – published in one of FGV’s journals, GV-Executive, shows that there are still many obstacles to increasing black women’s participation in the top positions at organizations.
The study notes that black people represent 56.1% of the Brazilian population, according to the national statistics agency, IBGE, but they only hold 4.7% of leadership positions at the country’s 500 largest companies. To improve our understanding of black female entrepreneurs, a digital survey was conducted, covering a group of 60 female executives who underwent a leadership training program to prepare them to serve on corporate boards of directors.
The context regarding the presence of black women in companies has changed over the years, due to numerous demands for affirmative policies and situations that have occurred. Despite some progress, however, black people continue to experience prejudice and discrimination, such as surprised reactions among colleagues if they go to work with braids in their hair, for example.
According to Campos, as of 2019, only 13% of CEO positions in Brazil were held by women. One way to increase their share of leadership posts is by getting more women on boards of directors. Board members are responsible for generating transparency and credibility for companies and they provide a link between shareholders’ interests and the functions of top executive management. A black female leader as a board member guarantees a diverse perspective for the organization, offering the potential to increase its return on investment.
Here are some recommendations made by the author:
- Visibility is not enough; technical support in management is necessary for black women to sustain themselves in the positions they have conquered.
- It is necessary to expand the inclusion of black women in traditional C-Level careers, as companies tend to limit them to careers related to diversity and sustainability.
- Engaging non-black people is essential to support existing initiatives and open up effective spaces in companies and institutions.
- One-off events to mark commemorative dates have a temporary effect but it wears off over time. Thus, it is important to have regular events to fight biases and strengthen a culture of diversity.
- Constructing benchmarks of industry best practices can help drive corporate or regulatory policies and actions.
Main challenges for the future:
- Guarantee that black women who already occupy positions in companies remain in them.
- Expand spaces for the inclusion of other black women among executives and board members, ensuring that they rise up from the base and support those who already hold such positions.
- Prepare young black women for leadership positions.
- Highlight senior black women as career role models.
- Consolidate and expand initiatives that already exist in organizations.
The study concludes that there has indeed been progress in terms of black women’s representation and the struggle to uphold their rights, including in professional advancement and what this represents for other women. However, regarding the organizational construction of a company, the theme of diversity still has a lot of potential, which needs to be better harnessed.
“Brazil has the second largest black population in the world (after Nigeria), and black women represent 27.8% of the population, according to IBGE. Having representatives of this group among leaders and on boards of directors broadens the market vision of brands and highlights a potential target audience that has not yet been properly served. It can also reveal talents that are currently neglected in most companies,” Campos argues.
Therefore, the greatest need is to change patterns and beliefs rooted in Brazilian society, in order to deconstruct patterns that are part of our collective unconscious and predominant in organizational cultures.
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