Building Pathways to Workplace Equity: Part 1 of Our Black History Month Series

February 8, 2021

It’s February and many of us are honoring Black History Month (BHM) - a time to recognize the trailblazing contributions the Black community has made in the U.S. It’s also an important time to reflect on our history, the progress that has been made, and the crucial steps we must take to help create equitable outcomes for every member of the global workforce. Personally, this month is meaningful because it shines a light on those who came before us. It honors the work they did and their struggle, but it’s also a reminder of the responsibility I feel toward my community and family. 

In thinking about the events of the past year, and how the pandemic and racial justice movement have affected underrepresented communities, economic equity has never been more important. To make that a reality, business leaders and allies must ensure our underrepresented employees are supported and empowered in the workforce. Anchored to this moment, and in pursuit of better understanding where businesses can play a role, in January of this year, LinkedIn surveyed more than 2,000 Black professionals in the US to shed light on the challenges they face in the workplace, including the prevalence of discrimination, being overlooked for advancement, the importance of mentorship, and the actions companies must take to advance the careers of Black professionals. This is part one of a two part data survey series dedicated to the Black professional experience. Be sure to check out next week’s post for a deeper dive into the importance of access to leadership, mentorship, and sponsorship. 

Opening Doors For Black Professionals 

Black professionals hold just 0.8% of Fortune 500 CEO positions, and only 3.2% of senior leadership positions at large companies despite making up over 12% of the US population. With this in mind, we’ve taken a look at the long-standing inequities that continue to exist in our places of work. We found that 40% of Black professionals say the biggest obstacle in their career is not having a clear path or opportunity for advancement at their organization. And 44% feel they’ve been overlooked or intentionally passed by for career advancement opportunities because of their race. Moreover, nearly half (46%) of Black professionals age 18-34 have faced blatant discrimination and/or microaggressions at work. Perhaps most staggering, even now, through an economic downturn, Nearly 1 in 3 Black Professionals surveyed (30%) are thinking about leaving their current job, with the top reason being lack of growth or advancement opportunities (45%) and lack of recognition of their work (33%).

Companies should identify any potential discrimination experienced by their employees by acknowledging it transparently and openly. To help Black professionals advance and see a clear path forward in their career, people leaders should improve the way they develop underrepresented talent through employee development programs or career coaching. We’re at a juncture where organizations must focus on the retention and development of the Black employees they have now before making bold stances to hire more underrepresented professionals. The work starts internally. Instead of rushing to make a statement, make sure you’re working to grow and appreciate the Black professionals in your organization first.

Moving From Acknowledgment To Action 

Anything is possible when we open the door of opportunity for one another, and while employee retention and development will help advance Black professionals, organizations must also think more broadly about action. Amidst the global focus on racial injustice, we’ve seen many companies take a stand against inequality – but the work to create safe spaces so that these conversations can take place still needs to be done.  As many as 1 in 4 Black professionals feel they may face retaliation for speaking up about racial justice issues or topics around diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, further isolating employees from feeling like they can bring their authentic selves to work. 

Creating a workplace culture rooted in anti-racism, with belonging at the center is essential so everyone feels valued and heard. When people from diverse backgrounds and cultures work together, we all succeed and studies show that companies with the most ethnically/culturally diverse boards worldwide are 43% more likely to experience higher profits. To ensure you’re hiring, developing, and promoting employees of all backgrounds, start by building programs across the entire employee lifecycle. At LinkedIn, we are committed to hiring and growing our underrepresented talent through development programs like our ImpactIn mentorship and LEAD program aimed at engaging and developing  Black and Latino talent in the U.S., to help accelerate career growth and build our leadership pipeline. 

  • 81% stat

Here’s how important transparency, a culture of inclusivity, and mentorship is to Black professionals:

  • While 78% of Black Professionals surveyed believe diversity and equity are important to the senior leaders at their workplace, 40% find that this is more talk than action, and their companies have not made any material changes to policies or culture 

  • 81% of Black professionals say seeing other Black professionals in positions of leadership would make their current workplace feel more inclusive and equitable 

  • Over half of Black professionals (51%) believe that leadership transparency on decisions that impact careers (e.g. promotion, pay, performance management) would make their current workplace feel more inclusive and equitable

  • 40% of Black professionals believe mentorship/career coaching opportunities will help lead to a more equitable workplace culture

The findings of this report have renewed even my own understanding of what it’s like to be a Black professional facing a multitude of unique challenges in the workplace and of the journey we still have ahead. In addition to the survey we’ll be sharing over the next week, LinkedIn is launching Conversations for Change, a new series of discussions on important topics at the intersection of life and work, such as diversity and equity in the workplace. This week, we’re excited to have Tyler Perry and Gayle King kick it off with a week-long takeover on LinkedIn News, highlighting Black professionals and their successes and obstacles. In March, we’re launching our 5th annual TransformHER virtual conference which focuses on women of color in tech and paths to professional development and advancement. 

Shedding light on the reality facing Black professionals and having open conversations about it is necessary to create change. Addressing bias, wherever it lives on the platform is core to our work to create equal access to opportunity and help drive more equitable outcomes for all members of the global workforce.