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Here's how to achieve better workplace equity for women of color

“The Memo” author, Minda Harts, joins Mika Brzezinski along with Columbia Law professor Alexandra Carter and former Focus Brands CEO Kat Cole to address a new report revealing major hiring disparities for Black women in government jobs.
Minda Harts, CEO of The Memo LLC, best-selling author and assistant professor at NYU Wagner.
Minda Harts, CEO of The Memo LLC, best-selling author and assistant professor at NYU Wagner.Elena Olivo

State and local government roles account for nearly 13 percent of the nation’s jobs. And while the public sector has historically held a positive trajectory for hiring for women and people of color, a study from ― a recruitment site for the public sector ― revealed that among candidates deemed qualified for city, county or state positions, Black women were 58 percent less likely to be hired than white men.

According to the New York Times, the study analyzed more than 16 million applicants based on race, ethnicity and gender in 2018 and 2019. Overall, qualified women were 27 percent less likely to be hired than qualified men.

To dig into the disparity behind these findings, “Morning Joe” co-host and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski was joined on the show Wednesday by Minda Harts, author of “The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table,” as well as Columbia Law professor Alexandra Carter, who is the author of “Ask for More: 10 Questions to Negotiate Anything” and former CEO of Focus Brands, Kat Cole.

“What I hope happens is that corporate America finally gets the memo that we have to finally look at intersectionality when it comes to gender in the workplace. It’s not enough to just say we’re advancing women, but what women are being advanced?” Harts said. “When I wrote ‘The Memo,’ 70 percent of women of color felt that their managers weren’t invested in their success … That’s a direct correlation between the lack of investment and retainment of Black women in the workplace.”

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The shift to remote work has also created challenges for women of color to be seen and recognized. “It’s already an environment where managers and leaders need to level up to really connect with all people in their workplace, certainly women and especially women of color,” said Cole. “I heard through 2020, through our diverse employees, particularly from women of color, ‘I feel invisible.’ The word invisible came up repeatedly. The lack of those intimate relationships, the lack of awareness or discussion about their progress, mentorship, programs for advancement, and seeing people like them in key positions who really do understand their lived experience led to them feeling invisible.”

For Professor Carter, part of the solution comes down to companies and employers asking better questions about changing the workplace dynamic and addressing the concerns of women of color directly. “Instead of just wondering why did this woman of color not get promoted, [companies should] zoom out and ask the bigger question: what’s our promotion system? What are we doing to retain and nurture top talent of color?” she said, adding that managers must also ask smarter questions at the one-on-one level.

“Last year after George Floyd was murdered, I reached out to my graduates of color to ask them what their managers were doing to support them,” Carter recalled. “One woman of color told me her manager emailed and asked, ‘Are you OK?’ That’s a closed question and she felt compelled to answer, ‘Thank you, I’m fine.’ A second woman told me her senior manager called her and said, ‘Tell us what we can do to support you better?’ That question opened up a conversation. So the questions we ask shape the conversations we have and the change we can make.”

RELATED: Minda Harts: 5 big challenges women of color face in securing a seat at the table

Harts concluded that companies must also look at the psychological safety that they are providing women of color so they can be honest and open about their work environment. “Our managers and leaders have to create relationships with Black and brown women so that they feel comfortable to be able to tell them the truth. We have to drill down deeper to say, 'What does good look like?' Good looks like first, setting representation targets for Black women in the workplace so that we have data that [indicate whether] you’re doing this well or not at all, and then reward and share success.”

Join the conversation! Mika and the KYV team will host a Clubhouse event on cultural diversity and women in the workforce this Friday, April 9th at 4PM ET. Don't miss this important discussion about the challenges facing women — specifically women of color — when it comes to growth at work. Click here for more.