The Concrete Ceiling

I’m frequently asked whether I believe minority women face more workplace bias than other groups. Based on my own experience, the stories of others, and the statistics on minority women in corporate executive roles, my answer has always been and continues to be yes. And here’s why:

Let’s start with the statistics. Fortune magazine indicated that African American women represent 8 percent of the workforce, but only 1.5 percent of senior leadership roles. Similarly, Hispanic women represent about 6 percent of the workforce and only 1.3 percent of senior leadership roles. An April 2016 Huffington Post article referred to this lack of minority women in executive roles as the “concrete ceiling.” Though similar to the glass ceiling we’re all familiar with, the concrete ceiling only applies to minority women and, as the name suggests, is much harder to penetrate.

What makes it difficult to break through the concrete ceiling? Several things, and here are a few:

  1. Lack of mentors and advocates for minority women: The research is clear. White men and women are much more likely to mentor other white men and women, leaving far fewer executive mentors and advocates for minority women. Mentors and advocates are critical for career growth, and the absence of them can be career limiting.
  2. Stereotypes: African American and Hispanic women face all of the same stereotypes that white women face (e.g., too emotional, not career motivated, not as intelligent as their male counterparts, and hindered by family responsibilities). They are also impeded by the stereotypes associated with their race. For instance, African American women are often perceived as angry, aggressive, invisible, or inherently unqualified. The compounding effect of all of these stereotypes is a double minority tax that continues to negatively impact minority women with regard to their career progression and earning potential.

I know these barriers are real because I’ve experienced them myself at different times in my career. Though I’ve felt frustrated by the stereotypes and lack of support, I’ve always vowed not to allow these types of impediments to hold me back. Instead of being suffocated by these challenges, I have sought out leaders who could see me, my skills, my talents, and my ambition—not just my gender or color. I feel blessed to have found great leaders who have ultimately helped me progress in my career. But, it hasn’t been easy. The concrete ceiling is very real; the good news is it can be penetrated!