For my dissertation research, I combed through countless studies and interviewed ten successful black women leaders. I wanted to understand the barriers black women encountered on their journey to senior roles and the strategies they used to navigate the obstacles. The results were enlightening.
I found two key barriers that keep women from advancing in their careers, and those barriers are either external or internal. The external obstacles involve a lack of support; the internal obstacles encompass a lack of know-how. In this blog, I will talk about the lack of support.
There are many ways lack of support can manifest, but they all boil down to implicit bias:
- On a societal level, poverty and socioeconomic status impact a woman’s ability even to see the opportunities let alone strive to accomplish them. In the absence of quality education, healthcare, and successful women role models, there is not much encouragement to strive beyond a woman’s current life station. While this is a gross generalization as we have plenty of examples of women who have succeeded and reached back to help others, poverty remains a crucial barrier to a woman’s ability to flourish.
- On an organizational level, policies, and practices that are in place do not support the unique needs of some women. While women have made strides professionally, they still shoulder most of the caregiving of children and parents as well the responsibilities of maintaining their homes personally. Without the organization’s support through its general employment guidelines, many women feel they must choose between focusing on their professional or personal lives.
- On an individual and group level, unconscious (and sometimes conscious) bias underscores key leaders’ decisions when it comes to recruiting, hiring, developing, and succession planning. Unless leaders are aware and mindful of their preferences and are intentional, their natural inclinations can get in the way of choosing to support others who don’t look like them. In this way, aspiring women leaders do not get the same mentoring, visibility, and advancement opportunities as their male counterparts.
- Additionally, bias played out though the organizational culture impacts how leaders perceive others in an organization. A woman can demonstrate the same leadership traits as a man but be viewed differently because of another’s bias. In this way, even women leaders can be biased against other women leaders, regardless of whether the aspiring leader’s behaviors align with the leadership competencies expressed by those in decision-making roles.
- It’s because of unconscious bias that we don’t see as many women in senior-level roles. As a result, there are fewer women able to influence and challenge decisions about talent and fewer women to act as role models and examples for those coming up the proverbial ladder behind them.
In my next post, What’s Keeping Women from Succeeding in Their Careers – Part 2 I will share the internal barriers that get in the way of women’s career success.