Measurable actions are needed to improve inclusion of black women in finance, professional services and technology firms, many of whom feel their careers are stagnating due to ‘mirrortocracy’.
This is according to research into the experiences of 44 black women at all stages of their careers, which found many had been overlooked for promotions by managers who favoured people who were “like them”.
The report, produced by The Inclusion Initiative (TII) at the London School of Economics and Political Science, describes this favouritism as “mirrortocracy”, or the privilege of being in the “in-group” which affords opportunities beyond a person’s merit.
Seventeen of the women interviewed (38%) felt that people around them had been hired or promoted based on “mirrortocracy”, and six said cultural identity and social class played a determining role in hiring and progression, beyond skills and output.
Pay is also an issue: 27 of the women felt they were paid less than comparable peers and four reported pay gaps of 30%.
Eighteen women felt that their organisation needed to completely change its culture to create environments that allowed diverse talent to thrive. Four explicitly mentioned that HR teams lacked the diversity needed to understand the underlying issues.
Most of the women aged under 30 reported a lack of visible black female role models in their organisations. Some senior black women described feeling a constant pressure to always represent the entirety of their race and gender in their organisation.
The report concludes that measurable actions are needed to hold senior leaders accountable for driving cultural change.
One interviewee said: “It’s critical for organisations to be held accountable… if there isn’t any actionable, transparent, and sustainable follow-through, then these [DEI] statements are merely for optics. What gets measured gets managed. Accountability is key.”
Erika Brodnock, research officer at TII, said: “Through the research I have found a most perplexing conundrum: Black women working in finance, big tech and professional services are both most visible because they are often the ‘only one’ in the room, while simultaneously being invisible when thinking about their ability to be authentically themselves – frequently feeling as though they do not truly belong in the seat they have so often worked ‘twice as hard’ to occupy.
“Black women have for far too long been overlooked, and as a result are consistently missing from the industry’s C suites, as well as the top 1% of earners. The problems this level of ‘mirrortocracy’ creates for black women, their organisations, and the economy at large can no longer be ignored. We do not need more data, we need more data-driven change that is effectively evaluated and leads to an increase in the number of black women on boards, leading top tier organisations and reaching their full economic potential.”
Ann Cairns, executive vice chair at Mastercard and global chair of the 30% Club, both of which supported the research, said: “ Throughout my career I have often been the only woman, or one of just a few, and I recognised the experiences outlined in the report that cite the effort it takes to try to fit in or make yourself heard. Doing so on top of your actual job can be exhausting. And it makes for bad business when staff aren’t able to devote their full efforts to their jobs.”
TII has developed the ‘Transparent’ framework to help organisations enact a change in culture:
- Team culture
- Role models
- Networks (internal)
- Systemic change
- Pay transparency
- Real identity
- Networks (external)