Although diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, has grown to be a multibillion-dollar industry, there is little proof that corporate programs are actually producing enough tangible outcomes. In fact, fewer than 1% of Fortune 500 CEO jobs and 3.2% of all executive or senior leadership positions are held by Black professionals.
While there has been some progress in recent years as evidenced by an increase in the percentage of Black students finishing their degrees, there is still a disparity in the level of college readiness of Black students when compared to their Asian American and white counterparts. College dropout rates among Black students remain significant.
As always, work continues to enable the development of Black leaders in all sectors. And therein lies the question: Where are the Black men in leadership roles?
Why is representation important?
While there isn’t a hundred percent absence of the Black male from C-suite roles – as evidenced by the success of prominent Black personalities like Kenneth Frazer (Merck), Trevor Edwards (Nike), Dick Parsons (Time Warner), Kenneth Chenault (American Express) and Robert L. Johnson (Charlotte Bobcats) – these are the exception rather than the rule.
Even with the dizzying heights attained by trailblazers like these Black men, persistent patterns of exclusion and discrimination continue to prevent Black executives and employees from rising to the top rungs.
Although there are Black professionals in corporate offices, there are systemic reasons why they are not being welcomed or included. As a result, businesses run the danger of losing them along with the important skills and insightful viewpoints that they depend on to innovate and cater to a growing diverse client base.
Even Black millennials with college degrees try to enter the corporate workforce with high hopes of making it while doing something worthwhile for the world. However, many Black professionals aren't feeling a sense of belonging, trust, or respect despite the promise of a stable income, benefits, and opportunities to travel offered by corporates. Over the past two years, where many companies moved completely remote, has exacerbated the isolated and excluded feeling many Black professionals grapple with.
Companies that don't have DEI mechanisms in place risk losing out on the key benefits of representation in business. These include:
Inclusivity fosters positive perception. Word-of-mouth spreads when your brand is perceived favourably, increasing the effectiveness of your marketing budget. Recruit diverse talent, treat employees fairly, and develop inclusive marketing strategies to enhance the perception of your brand.
Representation can be the primary differentiator for your brand. In a world where another alternative is just a swipe away, authentic advertising attracts an audience's attention and distinguishes your brand. If you don't keep your audience's interest, they'll go on to the next item (which might be your competition).
Embracing diversity leads to financial gains. When your company embraces diversity, you include everyone in the conversation. And what could be more financially beneficial than innovative solutions and products that come from diverse thought and experience? Expect an improvement in your bottom line when you convince other ethnic groups to use your products or services.
What does it mean to be a Black leader?
Although it may seem implausible, the obstacles successful Black leaders typically face have turned them into some of the best in their fields. Specifically, Black men leaders are lauded for the following qualities:
Skillful at strategic planning
Committed to realizing goals
Unafraid of taking risks
Persistent and steadfast
Tend to over perform – just so they can prove their detractors wrong
Able to tackle complex projects
Succeed in their endeavour no matter what
Ability to rally and find supporters
Inspiring leaders who empower others
These admirable qualities are the secrets of Black male leadership in North America and most everywhere. These comprise the untapped potential of Black individuals not given a chance to shine their brightest in a society that finds it easier to prejudge and maintain the status quo than give people a fair chance.
How do you rise up to the C-suite?
For any Black man to break the proverbial glass ceiling and have a chance at success, possessing the above qualities combined with access to opportunities and sponsors guarantee a chance to make it all the way to the C-suite and beyond.