CEO Insights

How to Advance and Retain Women of Color in the Workplace

As so many of us are painfully aware, women of color remain the most underrepresented group in the corporate pipeline. We are hired at lower rates. We are promoted at lower rates. We are retained at lower rates. We are paid at lower rates. Many years ago, I set my intention to help underrepresented professionals accelerate their careers.

As a Black woman in corporate America and the founder of a career coaching company, I know that building your career is the most valuable, and the most personal, investment you’ll ever make. As a career coach I work with companies to help advance and retain their underrepresented employees. During the pandemic I wrote a book, Prep, Push, Pivot: a career coaching guide for women of color in the workplace. In it I discuss the importance of paying it forward. Here are three ways you can help advance, and retain, women of color at your organization.

  1. Forge Connections
    Feeling connected at work — to coworkers, managers, or our organization as a whole — is an important catalyst for motivation and fulfillment. Consider where your internal networks are strongest and where they are weaker. Be intentional about expanding and broadening your connections to be inclusive of others. As a leader, be intentional about enabling women of color to drive projects that create opportunities for professional development, growth, and visibility. When you do this, provide support, and permission to stumble, learn and grow. This will help set your colleagues up for success.

    Visibility at work matters because underrepresented professionals are often overlooked. According to a recent study by Working Mother Media, multicultural women are 25 percent more likely to aspire to senior roles than white women. However, our aspirations can fall by the wayside fast. Working Mother Media’s research found only 46 percent of multicultural women had attended a meeting with senior executives within a two-year period, compared to 63 percent of white men.

  2. Provide Space for Participation and Perspectives
    Have you been in a group meeting recently where one person, or small cohort, dominated the conversation and everyone else was silent? If you’re leading a meeting, make space for broader participation and perspectives. Bring in quieter voices by asking other people for their opinions, ideas, or suggestions. Use open-ended questions and give other people your full attention when they are speaking. These are ways you can involve others by using your voice to help others participate and share their perspectives.

    Another way to pay it forward is to invite women of color to events or join networks that could support their professional development. If you’re attending an event or a conference think intentionally about who could benefit from the opportunity and share it.

  3. Be an Authentic Advocate
    As women of color navigating the workplace, we see and feel barriers to advancing that are invisible to others. During my career there were periods of time when I was the only Black woman in a meeting, the only Black woman on my team, and the only Black woman in the building. Now, as a coach my work centers on helping others overcome similar challenges in the workplace.

    Being an advocate for underrepresented women in the workplace reinforces your attributes as a leader and your commitment to the advancement of others. Share your experiences, as well as your mistakes. Give space for new perspectives and provide support during challenging times. Be invested. Identify opportunities to support other women with their professional goals. Strive to close the systemic the gaps that can hit women of the color the hardest when it comes to pay equity and opportunities for advancement.

Inclusion and performance are inseparable. If you want your organization to keep achieving, you need to enable others to maximize their potential. Use your connections and insights to help open doors. Use your voice to amplify others. Use your experience to answer questions. Listen, support, develop, promote, nurture, recommend, encourage, and amplify the women of color in your workplace. It will make a powerful difference.

Written by Octavia Goredema.

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Octavia Goredema
Octavia Goredema is the founder of Twenty Ten Agency, a career coaching company and the author of PREP, PUSH, PIVOT: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women. Her mission is to help underrepresented professionals advance their careers. Octavia has coached leaders at renowned companies including Google, American Airlines, Tinder, General Motors, Nike and Dow Jones.

Octavia Goredema is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.