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These are the 5 biggest barriers for Black professionals

Conflict resolution expert Damali Peterman explains how companies, allies, and Black professionals themselves can break through racism at work.

These are the 5 biggest barriers for Black professionals
[Source Photo: Christina Morillo/Pexels]

From racial discrimination to wage gaps, and more, people of color are still left to push for equity and their right to thrive in the workplace. According to a study conducted by Coqual (formerly the Center for Talent Innovation), over half of Black employees have felt racism at work. In 2021, the typical full-time Black worker earned about 20% less than the full-time white worker, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

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While there have been some strides, Black professionals still face many obstacles at work. These are the five biggest impediments that Black professionals are facing in 2022—and suggestions for what companies, allies, and the workers themselves can do to break through.

Lack of institutional transparency regarding compensation structures

While some governmental agencies, nonprofit organizations, and publicly traded companies are mandated to share financial information, such as salaries, donations, and spending practices, many companies cloak their internal compensation structures. This lack of transparency means that Black professionals do not always have sufficient information to measure whether they are receiving equal pay for equal work. Reports from the BLS and other organizations that examine workers’ pay show that Black professionals with the same qualifications as their white counterparts often earn less for the same job. 

Companies: Normalize discussions regarding compensation. Pay equity is a term that is used frequently, but organizations have different approaches to what this means and how to embrace pay equity within their walls. Honest conversations and audits should occur regularly to determine if there are any actual, or even perceived, pay inequities.

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Allies: Speak up and speak out. Share what you are earning. Equal pay for a colleague should not affect what you are being paid. Think about it for a moment: Would you support an organization that paid you less than your peer for the same work? You have an important role to play in the checks and balances system of your company.

Black professionals: Knowledge is power. Do as much research as you can to figure out what the salary range is for your position. Use your social media reach to inquire if your network knows anyone in a similar role. If appropriate and applicable, find out as much about the salary and pay equity during the interview process and/or post hiring. 

Pervasive implicit bias

Implicit biases—also known as unconscious bias—are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside of their own conscious awareness. Every human has implicit biases because they stem from one’s experience, education, environment, exposure, etc. In the workplace, these biases significantly impact who is recruited, hired, and promoted. For example, studies show that qualified applicants are less likely to be contacted for an interview based on an ethnically sounding name, and that Black people are more likely to encounter prejudice and microaggressions than any other ethnic group.

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Companies: Invest in training for your employees and leadership. Don’t assume that everyone has the same antibias playbook and knows what to do. Also, a one-and-done training approach will not be enough. Invest the appropriate time and energy to create an ongoing psychologically safe space for conversations and breakthroughs to occur.

Allies: If you are the person who is being told that you are showing implicit bias, listen to the feedback and learn from the experience. Don’t become defensive and overexplain. Be willing to be uncomfortable. You will learn from each encounter and start to focus more on the person and not the stereotype.

Black professionals: This is tough. You must rely heavily on your company and allies because you may not be aware that you are not being promoted or that you are being treated in a less-than-fair way, based on implicit biases. If you are aware of the implicit bias and its impact on you, take a metaphorical deep breath and slow things down before reacting. Among other things, this is your opportunity to provide a counter stereotypical narrative, which may be influenced by what you do as much as what you say.

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Lack of recognition for intersectionality

Having a DEI program is not enough when you have a multicultural workforce. Often, companies tout the fact that they have a certain percentage of diversity, and they highlight the number of Black professionals within their organization, which can look great externally. Internally, Black professionals are often lumped into one category—but Black is not a monolith. Black people from the Caribbean, Africa, and America all have different cultures and traditions. Organizations that want to be inclusive need to recognize and celebrate these nuances. In other words, there is diversity within the diverse group, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. 

Companies: Allow Black professionals to define themselves and create their own employee-resource groups.

Allies: Resist leading with, “Well, I am this, this, and this, so I understand where you are coming from.” Well-intentioned people do this all the time to try to connect. However, in that moment, the person who is being “othered” or is experiencing race-related discontent is not looking for someone to tell them they understand their situation. They are looking for someone to see them and acknowledge what is happening to them. 

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Black professionals: Share your stories. Communicate what you want or need. Sometimes, well-intentioned people need guidance. 

Diversity-hire stigma

In 2022, many Black professionals still face the misperception by many of their colleagues that they were hired because of their race as opposed to their qualifications.  

Companies: Be transparent with the hiring. Share who the finalists were and convey why the person you hired was the better fit for the role.

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Allies: Check your biases! 

Black professionals: Make sure that you do not buy into the narrative of being a diversity hire—don’t even joke about it. Do what you do best, and your work will speak for itself.

The ongoing impact of COVID

In the U.S., the economic impact of COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black professionals. Many have had to leave the workforce, voluntarily or otherwise, which, among other things, has resulted in widening gaps in career-growth opportunities.

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Companies: Be transparent and share how the pandemic is impacting sales, revenue, hiring, goals, etc.

Allies: Recognize that we are not all navigating the pandemic from the same position, and what works for you may not work for someone else. Extend grace.

Black professionals: Focus on what you can control. With the playing field changing almost daily, it is important to devote time, energy, and resources to what is within your sphere of influence. 

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Damali Peterman is the founder, CEO, and chief conflict resolver of Breakthrough ADR LLC.


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