Black women still battle workplace discrimination

2015 survey conducted by YouGov on racial discrimination. photo credit: YouGov
A 2015 survey conducted by YouGov on racial discrimination. Graphic credit: YouGov

By Ciara Speller


A 2015 survey conducted by YouGov on discrimination found 55 percent of black Americans said they still continue to face a “great deal” of racial discrimination in society. One of the most problematic cases of discrimination that continuously occurs, takes place in the workplace for black women.

Carole Simpson, Distinguished Journalist in Residence at Emerson College. Photo credit: Ciara Speller

Carole Simpson was the first African-American woman to anchor a major television network evening newscast and first woman or minority to moderate a presidential debate. She recalled what it was like to be discriminated against in the workplace when she first began her career.

” I was in broadcast journalism for 40 years, and for 40 years I suffered sex discrimination and racial discrimination,” said Simpson. ” It’s a virulent and self-defeating kind of thing and I still don’t think the playing field is leveled. We have to work harder and do better just to get half the recognition.”

“African Americans and Workplace Discrimination”  published in 2014 by Lilly Fernandes and Nora Hadi Q Alsaeed of Al Jouf University, found that researchers have identified the foundation of continuous inequality in the workplace among whites and African-Americans. The journal sheds light on the grass-roots disadvantages that blacks face in the workforce, such as lack of sponsorship and authority, job autonomy, earnings and socioeconomic status. Such has been proven especially true for black women in the workforce.

This graphic displays data surveyed in a 2015 Center for Talent Innovation study. Graphic credit: Ciara Speller

The divide between black women in the workplace and lack of sponsorship and opportunity is prevalent, but just simply does not add up, as studies show black women want to achieve success in the workplace more than anything.

Black Women: Ready to Lead” written by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder and CEO of the Communications for Center for Talent Innovations, and Tai Green, senior vice president, found that women aspire for the same things in life, at various levels. The top five “wants” were conducted in a 2014 report on women and ambition entitled “Women Want Five Things.” The report concluded that:

  • 91 percent of black women want the ability to flourish
  • 89 percent want the ability to excel
  • 85 percent want the ability to reach for meaning and purpose
  • 81 percent want the ability to earn well
  • 73 percent want the ability to empower others and be empowered

“Women Want Five Things” showed that black women want to achieve these goals at higher rates than that of their white female counterparts who were surveyed. The report also showed that black women struggle to successful achieve these goals, due to the lack of advocacy they receive from management in the workplace. Studies show this problem continues to exist because black women fear speaking up to a heriarchy at their workplace regarding discrimination.

A local vice president for an insurance company in her 40s, with 25 years of work experience in this industry explains her personal experience struggling to find sponsorship as a black female in corporate America. This veteran of the Boston corporate world asked to remain anonymous, as she said she feared backlash for speaking up on racial discrimination in the workplace. She is not alone.


Speaking while female at work is a challenge for women of all backgrounds, according to  “Speaking While Female” written by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton School Prof. Adam Grant. Sandberg and Grant write that regardless of the industry, a much smaller proportion of women share their opinions or raise their voices at work when compared to men.

In their essay “Speaking While Female” Sandberg and Grant account for this this issue. “We’ve both seen it happen again and again. When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive,” say Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant.

“It’s difficult. I bring the stress of knowing that I need to make sure I do well at this job. I’ll take problems on and stresses that I shouldn’t have to deal with because I need to make sure that I can provide a comfortable living for my son,” said Renee B., who has a law degree, lives in the Boston area and asked that her full name not be used. “So why do I deal with some of the stresses and some things that make me squint and go why do I have to work this much harder? I do that to make sure my child is taken care of and that my child has a tuition.”

Sandberg and Grant add in that speaking up as a woman of color is a double-edged sword and a “stereotype waiting to rear its ugly head.” That is all the more reason that this barrier continues to impede the daily routine of many black women dealing with this problem.

About Ciara Speller 4 Articles

Ciara Speller is a multimedia journalist with a Master's degree in Journalism from Emerson College. Aside from her passion for journalism, Ciara also has a love for the arts and wants to open a dance studio for inner city children one day.