Vinda Souza is senior vice president at Catalant, a high-skilled marketplace platform that connects Fortune 500 companies with 70K+ freelance consultants.
Women of color have long been a critical part of the US economy, serving as essential workers, caregivers, primary breadwinners, and more. Yet data consistently shows that the gender pay gap is considerably wider for women of color compared to women overall and even worse when compared to men. Notably, there are also painfully fewer women of color in executive leadership (c-suite) roles—a mere 13%.
Women of color don’t get paid less solely due to discrimination. I’ve watched friend after friend too disempowered and insecure in their positions to negotiate or even know their compensation bands. As a result, they’re penalized in the jobs they’re in, they’re penalized when they change jobs, and they’re even penalized when they’re promoted.
Women in leadership roles—is it helping?
I was recently asked if the movement to have more women of color on corporate boards or in c-suite roles has led to more lucrative compensation for these women. While it’s certainly possible, I have never personally experienced it, nor do I know of any women of color within my network experiencing what sounds like a lovely normalization.
The lack of transparency around pay means women of color often don’t know they’re being short-changed until someone tells them. Or, in the rare case they get access to salary or equity data. It’s infuriating and problematic—another turn of the screw.
Companies with diverse employees and workplaces have 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee, and diverse management has increased revenue by 19%. And it makes sense—the broader the backgrounds in the room, the more we’ll question decisions and assumptions as necessary. That examination brings a more informed perspective.
Changing the narrative will require serious work—on a corporate, state, and national level. California took a profound step in advancing the representation of women at the board level with Senate Bill 826. The bill increased the number of women on public company boards and encouraged discourse on the importance of diverse leadership. But, unfortunately, that law has been recently imperiled, and laws of this nature aren’t commonplace. We must keep trying.
To help, companies can work to place women of color on their own board, and to help their own employees get placed on private and public boards. For example, The Last Mile helped place me in a nonprofit board role. While it’s unpaid, it’s certainly emotionally enriching.
What can companies do?
Companies should offer robust work and family policies, including generous medical and parental leave. But, beyond policies, companies should assess their actions. For example, holding mandatory company meetings in the late afternoon or early evening may inadvertently penalize women of color who are parents, forcing them to choose between family and work.
Unwritten rules that encourage showing up early and staying late can tax the careers of women of color, who are often the primary caregivers. By including women of color in discussions and decisions about the culture, pay, and company performance, companies can acknowledge the experiences of women of color and start to remedy the inequalities they face.
Will strong allies please stand up? (Or sit down.)
I’ve found well-meaning supporters of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), who aren’t themselves people of color or part of marginalized groups, leading conversations on systemic bias and systems of oppression. Women of color are often the recipients of discussions on diversity and not the architects—we’re either called to single-handedly solve racism or not consulted at all.
I’d like to say that women of color should convene essential conversations on race, bias, and power dynamics at the workplace, advocating for themselves loudly and proudly. But, unfortunately, I can’t advise that, as I’ve seen it turn out badly for us a fair amount. Saying that all women of color in the workplace should fight to be included is like saying all women should walk home alone in the dark:
Make sure your own company is making progress
As a workplace expert at Catalant, I make sure we follow our own counsel. From management training sessions on diversity, allyship, and combating microaggressions to having frank and open conversations on the experiences of employees from underrepresented groups, we’re focused on progress. Most companies with DEI programs over-index celebrating without focusing on painful dialogues and subsequent education.
It can’t all be cheerleading and world food tours if a company wants to make progress in the equity and inclusion of diverse voices. Real change requires honesty, vulnerability, and naming the proverbial elephant. It requires training and the strengthening of allyship muscles. I know the work is worth it. The psychological safety built from connection brings trust. And ultimately, better working relationships for all.
🎧 For more, listen to the Work Reconsidered podcast episode on pay transparency. Or subscribe via: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher.