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Research shows that the pandemic has been especially burdensome to working women. For Blank and Latinx women, the negative effects are disproportionately higher. Learn the steps business owners can take now to create a culture that supports minority women at work.

Key Takeaways

  • Research states that Black women are less likely than women overall to say they have strong allies at work.
  • Since the onset of COVID-19 Black and Latinx women are more likely to think about leaving the workforce.
  • Fostering a culture that supports minority women at work requires open dialog and a commitment to an inclusive workforce.

Dealing with the effects of the global pandemic has been difficult for women in the workplace, who have had to balance the pressures of work with increased caregiving responsibilities at home. Many have also had to face new worries about their families’ health and finances, all while having to manage their daily responsibilities with shrinking support systems.

In addition, research shows there have been multiple forces threatening to make the pandemic’s disproportionate impacts on Black and Latinx women even greater. These and other findings are illustrated by the sixth annual Women in the Workplace study, conducted by McKinsey & Company in partnership with LeanIn.Org.

Study results indicate that while the pandemic has been especially burdensome to working women, causing as many as one in four to contemplate leaving her job, Black and Latinx women have experienced these challenges to a greater extent. Findings included:

  • Both Black and Latinx women in the workplace are more likely than women overall to have been affected by the death of a loved one.
  • Black and Latinx working women are more likely to be their families’ sole breadwinner and tend to do more housework.
  • Black women are less likely than women overall to say they have strong allies at work and may feel they receive less support from their managers.
  • Since the pandemic, Black women are more likely than other employees to think about leaving the workforce because of concerns over their health and safety.
  • Besides dealing with the pandemic, Black women have had to weather the added emotional toll from racial injustices across the country.

Addressing Race-Related Challenges During the Pandemic

While dealing with these challenges may not be easy for some organizations, understanding they exist should be the first step. Greg Jones, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at KeyBank, has shared that the community-oriented culture at KeyBank is built on a strong diversity infrastructure. But, he acknowledged, some business owners may not be aware of the perspectives of Black and minority women employees, and they owe it to their employees to listen and understand them.

“I think at a minimum, Black women and minority women deserve to be understood at the place where they spend most of their time – at least eight hours a day – and I think leaders like myself and others need to be as sensitive to that as we can,” Jones observed.

He adds that while all women have struggled to balance the demands of home and work during the pandemic, the struggle has been especially difficult for Black and minority women, who are often starting from a deficit based on long-held biases that can extend to performance reviews, the feedback they receive, and their being selected for a promotion.

“Those biases are very real, so what we’re doing these days is really pushing to create a level of awareness,” Jones said. To that end, KeyBank has been proactive in recent months both in dealing with pandemic-related challenges and in supporting employees as they grappled with racial injustice issues across our country.

To launch the dialogue, the bank hosted more than 60 roundtable discussions among employees at all levels of the organization, focusing on the issues of race and unconscious bias. The intent was to create greater empathy and understanding by providing a safe space for people to express their perspectives without fear of judgment.

The conversations, while not easy for some, brought a level of understanding far more impactful than training. “We heard very real stories that often get tucked away when people come to work,” Jones said. Addressing those emotionally sensitive topics is important, Jones added, to acknowledge biases and initiate change throughout Key operations.

The bank is also implementing inclusive leadership training to help managers support their teams with greater understanding of individual experiences related to race, gender or other factors.

With several dozen racially focused conversations under his belt at KeyBank, Greg Jones offers some advice to others wanting to improve their understanding and openness of racial issues and biases in their organizations. “Having meaningful conversations will not only make you a better leader, but what you hear from employees will also inspire and inform your business and human resource strategies,” Jones said. “It will help you further mold a corporate culture and refine your recruitment and performance review systems.”

Addressing Biases in Recruitment, Development and Advocacy

One of Jones’ colleagues who has focused on making operational shifts to build diversity, equity and inclusion across the bank’s consumer segments is Rebecca Talley, senior vice president of the bank’s Retail Network Experience Leaders and Branch Operations Team. Talley also heads up a council within KeyBank’s Consumer Bank division that is committed to promoting accountability, recruiting, employee development and advocacy in the context of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We’re trying to understand how we develop and position our talent, and how we can be more deliberate in identifying and creating the skill sets that are truly needed, while also having open and candid discussions around some of the conscious or unconscious biases that exist,” Talley said.

The Executive Leader for Consumer and the Council also hosted “Connection Sessions,” a series to serve as a platform for employees at all levels to bring racial conversations to the forefront. They created a toolkit to help leaders feel more comfortable having uncomfortable or difficult conversations.

Another effort Key is making, Talley said, has been reviewing the bank’s recruitment assessment process through a diversity lens. “In this way we’re not just talking about talent but also recognizing how Black and minority women are showing up as leaders and members of the team.” While these activities have been useful for KeyBank, Talley noted, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for all companies.

“Employee engagement surveys, as well as feedback from Connections Sessions and other interactions, show us that different efforts or resources are needed in different areas,” Talley said. “Part of the process is recognizing this and meeting team members where they are on their journeys.” Talley also commented that business owners and executives must strive to understand what matters most in their organizations and to get involved in the work that will make the most impact to their workforce.

Support for Women Business Owners

Black and minority women business owners also have advocates in their communities, such as the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), which provides business certification and resources for women-owned businesses. The organization is currently working to further support Black and minority women business owners at the regional and local level.

One of the business leaders involved in this effort is Sheila Mixon, executive director of the Women’s Business Enterprise Council of the Ohio River Valley (WBEC-ORV), based in Cincinnati, which is one of 14 regional partner organizations of WBENC. Mixon explained that the organization is currently launching a women of color initiative designed to increase access to certification specifically for African American women business owners. Gaining these certifications is important, Mixon said, to bring additional women business owners into the pool of organizations that are eligible to bid on corporate and government supplier contracts.

The women of color initiative will support African American women business owners through the process of becoming certified as both women-owned businesses and as minority-owned businesses. “We know the opportunity for certification is there for all women business owners,” Mixon explained, “but there’s a gap for women of color, and specifically for African American women.”

Two other WBENC regional partner organizations, as well as a corporate partner, are working with WBEC-ORV to develop the program, which plans to award up to 15 scholarships to African American women business owners to help prepare them for certification and cover the first year of certification fees.

Understanding the business challenges and needs created by the pandemic is also part of the initiative, Mixon said. She plans to talk with previously certified women business owners to find out how the pandemic affected their businesses, how they adapted and how certification programming should be updated going forward.

Addressing Workplace Challenges Now

The McKinsey “Women in the Workplace” study identifies serious challenges that women – especially minority women – are facing as the pandemic runs its course. Two paths are identified for business leaders to help “fix the broken rung” and support Black and Latinx women as they navigate both gender and racial biases in the workplace.

First, address the distinct challenges that minority women face head-on. Have conversations with these employees, identify barriers and commit to a plan that advances all women at your organization. Share the plan broadly with your workforce. Increased understanding of biases and barriers may help create workforce champions within your organization.

Second, foster a culture that supports and values minority women. To start, create specific guidelines for conduct; it’s important to share what inclusive behavior looks like. Introduce and follow through with diversity and allyship training. Spend time reflecting on organizational rituals, celebrations and customs to ensure they are inclusive – and safe – for everyone.

Choices we all make now, at this critical time, will help shape the workforce for all women in the future.

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The information contained herein has been obtained from sources deemed to be reliable, but it is not represented to be accurate, complete or objective. Viewpoints in the list of resources do not necessarily reflect those of KeyCorp.

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