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This is why 50% of multicultural women are thinking about leaving their jobs in the next 2 years

Subha Barry, president of Working Mother Media, shares new survey results and offers solutions to stop the exodus of women that are about to leave corporate America.
Subha Barry, president of Working Mother Media.
Subha Barry, president of Working Mother Media.Miller Hawkins

There is a tidal wave of multicultural women that are about to leave corporate America.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, multicultural women were considering fleeing in record numbers, citing bias and lack of support as the main culprits. In fact, according to new survey by Working Mother Media, the organization that I lead, 50 percent of multicultural women are considering leaving their companies within the next two years. Let that sink in for a moment. Fifty percent.

What makes this statistic particularly alarming is that multicultural women are highly ambitious, with 25 percent more likely to aspire to senior roles than White women. But while 63 percent of early-career multicultural women hope to make it to the top, only 41 percent of late-career multicultural women have the same aspirations.

And now as we navigate our new virtual reality, multicultural women are faced with even greater challenges than before.

Having the tools needed to lead effectively in these times is even more critical. As multicultural women bring higher levels of education, ambition, and diverse ideas to the workplace, how can we ensure they stay engaged, connected and ultimately advance? How can multicultural women stay steadfast in their leadership journeys and continue to build networks and new skills in these uncertain times? It’s more important than ever to build up cultural leadership competencies that are truly inclusive and for organizations to provide tools that will re-skill and re-energize women for the challenges ahead.

Here’s what we also found out through our survey, which was released this week. We polled more than 3,000 women professional women across 24 industries between Oct. 31 and Nov. 26 of last year.

Women want more control over their careers.

While some multicultural women move on to other corporate employers, many are leaving corporate America altogether to start their own businesses, wanting more control over their careers and their lives. Multicultural women account for 89 percent of net new women-owned businesses. And 65 percent have “side hustles” while still employed (compared to 32 percent for White women).

Multicultural women start out ambitious.

They are 25 percent more likely to aspire to senior roles than white women. This affirms prior research on this subject, showing Black women in particular are ambitious. And multicultural women with P&L (profit and loss) experience are 128 percent more likely than those without it to want to move into senior roles. Yet their early aspirations fall by the wayside pretty quickly in corporate America.

-Fifty-five percent of them aspire to senior roles, 25 percent more than White women, with Latinx women the most ambitious (64 percent). But while 63 percent of early-career multicultural women hope to make it to the top, that plummets to 41 percent of late-career multicultural women.

But multicultural women believe both their gender and their races/ethnicities make it harder to advance.

Forty-nine percent of Black women surveyed agreed that their race/ethnicity will make it more difficult to advance (followed by 43 percent of Asian and Latinx women, and 17 percent of White women).

-P&L roles are crucial to moving to the top positions. Yet bias about race/ethnicity, skin tone, and accent often pull these women down. They receive comments about being “articulate” or “attractive” that feel like insults. Sixty-two percent of multicultural women believe that race/ethnicity is a workplace disadvantage.

- Seventy-nine percent of multicultural women cite “male-dominated” culture as an obstacle; 74 percent believe they are considered “not fitting the profile of a leader.”

Having strategic networks is critical to advance, but many multicultural women don’t have them

Those with these networks are twice as likely to aspire to senior roles and twice as likely to be satisfied with their careers. But 24 percent of them do not have these critical networks, with Asian women least likely to have them.

-More than two-thirds attribute their disenchantment to lack of sponsors (72 percent of early-career and 71 percent of late-career multicultural women), lack of mentors (70 percent and 72 percent), and lack of support from senior men (70 percent and 75 percent).

-Multicultural women with strategic networks compared to those without these networks were twice as likely to believe they have equal opportunities as others to advance (81 percent vs. 35 percent).

So, what are we going to do to stop this exodus?

What solutions can we, individually and collectively, offer to help companies retain this crucial talent pool?

To start, corporate culture needs to be addressed and changed. Do an audit of organizational offerings: What is currently offered in leadership development, mentoring and sponsorship, and who is participating? It is crucial to track gender and race/ethnicity to understand who is actually impacted by these initiatives.

Companies need to partner with external organizations to help facilitate a dialogue and conduct anonymous surveys that really dive deeply into what these women experience within the workplace. I would add an item to this survey that measures satisfaction on the ability to “be yourself” at work and then analyze this data by race/ethnicity/gender/orientation/disability to see where there are gaps. But it is critical that top leaders are informed of these results and are involved in action planning to remedy any issues found.

High-potential multicultural women need to be assigned to core business functions, especially those with P&L experience. Recognize and celebrate multicultural women who are role models through prominent external and internal communications and events. But don’t expect multicultural women, especially those in more senior or visible roles, to be the speaker at EVERY diversity event or be the spokesperson for her ethnic group. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience when I say it’s very draining and takes away from the individual’s job success.

Organizations also need to develop, support, and encourage their talent. Design assignments with an apprenticeship view to serve as a type of safety net. Ask senior leaders to commit to personally encourage a high-potential multicultural woman to take on a stretch assignment or new opportunity. But also give these women permission to fail. Provide guidance on backup plans before they accept so they know they have a safety net if it doesn’t work out.

Strategic networks are of the utmost importance. Having a strategic network of coaches, mentors, and sponsors has a positive impact on the workplace experience for multicultural women. The definition of strategic network can be broad. Our research indicated multicultural women often use external sources (such as civic and nonprofit organizations) to find strategic networks, which can lead them to finding new jobs and opportunities.

Women must be allies for each other, and what that means is changing. These are times when people need to be having essential conversations with women of all races: Black, Latinx, Asian, White, etc. Even if your fellow sisters are perceived as allies, it’s important for all of us to understand what we don't know. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

We don’t have all the answers yet, and that’s OK, if we’re having more of these types of conversations. I encourage organizations to look within and come up with a plan to retain their diverse talent. Together, we can effect change and continue on this path toward a more equitable future.

Subha V. Barry is a world recognized diversity and inclusion expert and currently serves as the President of Working Mother Media.