While talent is evenly distributed amongst diverse populations, opportunity and representation are not. Black and Brown people are significantly underrepresented across many professional and political arenas. While progress has been made over recent years, both locally and nationally, according to data, working African-Americans — from those laboring in warehouses to those working in executive roles — still face obstacles to advancement that other minorities do not. According to the Labor Force Statistics in 2019, roughly 8% of managers and 4% of executives are Black. When Black and Brown employees do not see themselves represented in upper management, they may not believe there are opportunities to advance. These inequities can be attributed to structural, institutional, and systemic racism.
There are several advantages when people of color are better represented in leadership roles. McKinsey & Company conducted an analysis of 366 companies that revealed a statistically significant connection between diversity and financial performance. “The companies in the top quartile for racial/ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median. This correlation indicates that companies that commit to diverse leadership are more successful.”
These same disparities in representation can be observed across the field of healthcare. African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, but only 4% of U.S. doctors and less than 7% of U.S. medical students. Despite the lack of representation in the medical field, research reveals Black Americans are more likely to get better medical care from Black doctors and nurses. It has been argued that sharing a racial or cultural background with one’s doctor helps promote communication and trust. This results in patients being more likely to follow recommendations from doctors and take advantage of more preventative care services.
In education, it is critical for young Black and Brown children to see people that look like them in leadership roles and to be able to learn from people with similar lived experiences. When youth have a positive view of their racial and ethnic identity, it acts as a protective factor by increasing their self-esteem and buffering against racism and discrimination; therefore, reducing or protecting against psychological distress and improving mental health. A study reveals black students who are exposed to one black teacher by third grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college, and those who had two black teachers were 32% more likely to enroll in college. Despite the benefits, the education workforce also lacks representation. Teachers of color represent 18% of educators, and Black males represent just 2%, according to Department of Education statistics. Comparatively, approximately half – 49% – of public elementary and secondary school students are children of color.
Representation is also critical in politics because those elected to office should look like the populations they serve. This aids in the creation of more fair and inclusive policies. 89% of elected officeholders nationwide are white. From City Council to the President of the United States, Black Americans are underrepresented in elected positions on all levels. According to Pew Research, as of 2019, there is greater representation in some areas – 52 House members are Black, putting the share of Black House members (12%) on par with the share of Blacks in the U.S. population overall for the first time in history. But in other areas, there has been little change. Currently, there are three black senators and no black governors holding offices in the country. There have only been four Black governors in U.S. History. Many Black people view political representation as a potential catalyst for increased racial equality, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey.
All across the board, diverse organizations perform better due to: Increased talent pool, strengthened customer orientation, increased employee engagement, increased innovation, improved decision making, and enhanced company image. There is a lot of work to be done to dismantle systems that keep people of color from achieving equal success and fair representation. Organizations must do more to take full advantage of the opportunity that diverse leadership teams offer. In order to do so, it is imperative that organizations make an intentional effort to attract, develop, mentor, sponsor, and retain the next generations of global leaders at all levels. If representation is increased, people of color will have more equitable outcomes in health, education, policy and more.