Professional black women paid less as careers stagnate, UK survey finds

Professional black women in the UK are paid less and have to work twice as hard to get noticed or get the same opportunities as their peers whose careers stagnate in a ‘mirror tocracy’, according to a study.

Almost three-quarters of black women working in major tech, finance and professional services said they thought they were paid less than their comparable peers in a survey by the London School of Economics and Political Science.

More than half reported difficulty being their ‘authentic self’ in their organization, feeling the need to change their personalities to fit the corporate culture as they struggle to reflect others due to of their contrasting antecedents, called by some a mirror tocracy.

The study also found repeated examples of professional black women judged on their appearance. In one case, a black woman wearing a suit was mistaken for a housekeeper, while another was told she looked more professional when her hair was worn straight rather than left natural.

Erika Brodnock, research fellow at the Inclusion Initiative at LSE, said black women working in finance, technology and professional services faced a “most puzzling conundrum” of being often highly visible because they were usually the only black women “in the room, while still being invisible when you think about their ability to be authentically themselves”.

“[They are] often feeling like they don’t really belong to the seat they have so often worked twice as hard to occupy, ”she said, adding that black women have been neglected for too long.

Erika Brodnock, Inclusion Initiative researcher at LSE © Handout

The 38 women interviewed all said they had faced significant or severe headwinds when it came to their careers. Some 14 described incidents at work involving racism, such as choosing white co-workers over more skilled and experienced black women, while 15 said they had suffered micro-attacks.

About half said that despite their attempts to conform to their company’s dress and hair standards, they still experienced negative encounters with coworkers, such as coworkers trying to touch their hair.

One woman told researchers: “If you can show up for work without having to worry about how your coworkers or clients view your natural hair. . . don’t have to worry about your name being mispronounced, or anglicizing it to even get through your CV check, you’re not in the blind spot of a headhunting firm, or you show up in leadership pipelines, then it is a privilege that you can enjoy. Others can’t.

A separate LSE study earlier this year found that black women in the UK have the lowest likelihood of being the highest paid of any group.

Ann Cairns, executive vice president of Mastercard and global president of the 30% Club, which lobbies for more women in leadership positions, said the new research showed “how hard black women in business have to endure so much. extra pressure to succeed. ”.

The research, which was sponsored by Mastercard, proposed a framework to help black women achieve more equal opportunities. Study author Grace Lordan, director of the Inclusion Initiative at LSE, said managers at all seniority levels should “adopt an inclusive leadership style.”

Earlier this year, the Fawcett Society said ethnic minority women were “almost invisible from positions of power in the public and private sectors” in the UK.

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