African-American Women’s Mentoring Experience in Corporate America: Are we there yet?

African-American Women’s Mentoring Experience in Corporate America: Are we there yet?

The mentoring/sponsorship factor and the socially constructed realities for African-American women seeking advancement to senior leadership positions in corporate America.

Some improvement has been made in African-American women’s advancement to senior leadership positions in corporate America since 2014 when I conducted my original qualitative research on African-American women’s lived experiences and advancement to senior leadership positions as part of my doctoral dissertation. Progress has been made in some areas, but not in all. To understand African-American women’s mentoring experiences, I interviewed high-level corporate and non-profit personnel. All themes from the study pointed to unique experiences compared to their non-African American counterparts. African-American women remain underrepresented in top-ranking corporate positions, according to recent studies.

According to the 2022 report on Women in the Workplace from Lean

  • The number of women in the C-suite is only one in four, and the number of women of color is only one in twenty.
  • Only 87 women and 82 women of color are promoted from entry-level to manager for every 100 men.

Research conducted by Catalyst shows that 89% of Black women aspire to leadership positions at work. Meanwhile, 41% report being vigilant when protecting themselves from racial and ethnic prejudice. 

Diversity and Inclusion Programs

Although diversity and inclusion programs have achieved some success, much work remains to be done. Mentorship and sponsorship are essential for minorities and women at work. A lack of mentorship can result in workers being alienated from established networks, dissatisfied with their jobs, struggling to perform, and receiving subjective performance evaluations.

Mentor practices to improve organizational return on investment:

Despite the importance of workforce diversity to an organization’s competitive advantage, diversity programs do not always promote Black women to high-level positions. Mentoring can be a valuable strategy for advancing Black women up the corporate ladder for leaders concerned with diversity initiatives. Organizational practices such as those listed below can be helpful in this regard. 

  1. Recruitment and retention initiatives to stem competing values, stereotypes, and bias
  2. Senior leaders must adopt tangible measures to address benign neglect in managers’ cognitive motivations.
  3. For cross-collaboration and robust communication, leaders must hire and educate managers on cultural sensitivities.
  4. Instead of relying on homogenous teams, organizational leaders should model and encourage collaborative engagement.
  5. To achieve enterprise-wide goals, collaboration among unlikely allies is essential.

Mentees can increase visibility by following these practices:

  1. Requesting stretch assignments
  2. Organize your network strategically and purposefully.
  3. Establish reciprocal relationships with mentors and sponsors.
  4. Look for development projects to gain visibility.
  5. Demonstrate ability to achieve strategic goals and drive bottom-line results.




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