Achieving Authentic Diversity: Support and Empower Black Women Leaders

By Nicole Carey

Hey, everyone. Quick pause in your day to talk about something crucial: supporting Black women in leadership. This post is applicable to any diverse person in a leadership role, but I just keep getting calls from Black women, so here we are. I just had a heart-wrenching coaching session with a Black woman executive, and it’s time to address the elephant in the room: We are not doing a great job supporting our “diverse” hires. If you’re aiming for a diverse leadership team, listen up.

The Reality of Being a Black Woman in Leadership

This leader stepped into her role about a year ago, breaking a color barrier in her department. Her team—that had never before worked under a person of color—was visibly shaken. She shared her experiences with me, and her words mirrored what I’ve read in countless studies on microaggressions. It’s like a broken record, folks, and it’s got to stop.

Stop the Cycle of Gaslighting

Hiring Black women for leadership roles, but then leaving them unsupported amid a white-centric work culture? That’s just setting them up to fail. I’m tired, and I mean really, really  tired of coaching incredible Black women leaders who are made to feel like they’re losing their grip on reality when they speak up about microaggressions. When they reach out to their supposedly equity-focused leadership, they’re met with dismissals, doubt, and gaslighting. In 2023, this is unacceptable.

Tailored Support is Crucial

And here’s the real talk: Support can’t be a one-size-fits-all deal. If your talent retention plan doesn’t speak to any social identities, then you’re probably not going to retain your recruits for long. A Black male leader’s challenges are going to look different from a Black female leader’s challenges. Culture matters, intersectionality matters, individual experience matters, and our solutions need to reflect that.

Tools for Support and Empowerment

So, what can we do? While working toward comprehensive organizational change (which, let’s be real, takes years), how do we support our Black women leaders? The goal is retention. The goal is empowerment. Your benefits package should include resources to help carry the emotional load that comes with #LWB (Leading While Black) and shift the balance toward equity. Here are a few things to think about:

Immediate Help:

– Affinity Groups: Creating spaces where Black women can connect with others who share similar experiences is crucial. These groups offer a sense of community and belonging, helping to alleviate the feelings of isolation that can occur in predominantly white workspaces. They provide a safe space to discuss challenges, share advice, and support one another both professionally and personally. Affinity spaces should come with structure, strategy, support, and resources. (Indy Equity can help you set this up. . . . Affinity spaces and ERGs are our jam!)

– Mentorship (Internal and External): Mentorship helps in professional development and navigating organizational politics. Internal mentors can provide insights specific to the company’s culture, while external mentors can offer a broader perspective and additional resources. For Black women leaders, it is invaluable to have mentors who understand and have navigated the challenges associated with being minoritized in leadership.

– Access to Mental Health Resources: The cumulative effect of microaggressions and systemic inequities can take a significant toll on mental health. Providing access to mental health resources, particularly those that are culturally sensitive, ensures that Black women leaders have the support they need to maintain their well-being.

– Culturally Responsive Executive Coaches: Coaches who understand the nuances of navigating a professional world as a Black woman can offer tailored advice and strategies, helping to bolster confidence and efficacy in leadership roles.

– Validation (Private and Public): Regularly acknowledging and validating the experiences and contributions of Black women leaders helps combat the gaslighting and imposter syndrome that can arise from microaggressions and exclusion. Public validation also sends a strong message to the wider organization about the value placed on diversity and inclusion.

Long-Term Actions:

– Allocate Resources for Cultural Change: Creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace requires investment. This includes funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, training, and resources that specifically address the challenges faced by Black women leaders.

– Strategic Planning: Developing a comprehensive plan to address systemic inequities and foster a more inclusive culture is essential. This plan should be informed by data, including feedback from Black women leaders, and should include clear, measurable goals and accountability mechanisms.

– Development of Inclusive Policies and Practices: Reviewing and revising organizational policies and practices to ensure they are inclusive and do not inadvertently disadvantage Black women leaders is critical. This might include reevaluating hiring practices, promotion criteria, and performance evaluation processes.

– Ongoing Education and Training: Implementing regular training programs to educate all employees about microaggressions, systemic racism, and the importance of inclusion helps to create a more supportive environment for Black women leaders.

– Fostering a Culture of Allyship and Advocacy: Encouraging and training non-Black employees to be allies and advocates helps to distribute the responsibility for creating an inclusive workplace, ensuring that Black women leaders are not left to shoulder this burden alone.

By taking these immediate and long-term actions, organizations can create a supportive environment for Black women leaders, helping to ensure their success and well-being, and contributing to the overall diversity and strength of the leadership team.

Belonging is Non-Negotiable

Belonging isn’t a lofty ideal; it’s a basic workplace necessity. It requires an acknowledgment of and shift away from dominant cultural norms. It needs a shared understanding, a strategic action plan informed by real data, and a substantial allocation of resources. Miss any of these, and you’re setting the stage for a disaster.

So, to all the organizations out there: if you’re serious about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging—show it. Support your Black women leaders, understand their unique challenges, and provide the tools they need to thrive. It’s time to move beyond performative allyship and toward genuine empowerment and change.

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