Happy 10th anniversary to the Best Companies for Multicultural Women initiative and congrats to our record 25 winning companies — up from only three our first time out!
Back then, experts assured us that the only way for women of color to find professional success would be to keep some parts of themselves hidden at work. How much has changed since then. These days, multicultural women at our 25 Best Companies say it is exactly their different point of view that makes them so valuable to their employers.
The numbers paint a picture of what else has changed in 10 years: In 2002, neither IBM nor American Express (two of our initial three winners) reported a single multicultural woman on their board of directors. Now, 17 percent of IBM’s board and 8 percent of American Express’ board members are minority women. Indian-born Indra Nooyi leads Pepsico (now in its sixth year on the list) and Walmart, which is also marking its sixth return to the list, recently named Rosalind Brewer as its first African-American president and CEO of Sam’s Club.
One thing that hasn’t changed in ten years? Earning a spot on our Best Companies list is still no easy feat. Companies must do well across our application’s nearly 400 questions. We look at everything from representation of multicultural women at all job levels to what programs exist to support women of color to how managers are held accountable for promoting minority women. (Click here to explore aggregated data from the applications.)
This year, however, I’m reminded of the power of the conversation we’ve been having these past ten years, whether in Working Mother magazine, our research on multicultural issues, or at our annual National Multicultural Women’s Conferences.
In the past ten years, we’ve tackled issues of trust, identity, influence, power, authenticity – just to name a few. But even more important than the topics covered have been the format of our discussions. At each year’s national conference, hundreds of women break out into separate racial and ethnic groups, called Same Race Circles: African American, Asian and South Asian, Mixed Race, Latina, Native American, Caucasian. As my boss, Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media, explains in her story “The Power of 10 (Years)”:
“Each group talks about the barriers they face, the obstacles they create themselves and their ideas of what will move their group forward. After nearly two hours of this deep discussion, each group reports back to the full audience of 700 women — but reports back only what they choose to share.
"The rule of the conference is that you can only attend your own Same Race Circle, so I have been to 10 years of white women’s circles. I’ve heard white women’s say, privately, that they do not see color; that they are always 'nice' to women of color; that they feel united with women of color in the struggle to gain equal rights from men…
"What white women hear back from the other groups, however, is that as we pushed our way up the ladder of success into the all-male hierarchy, we did not reach out and bring many women of color up with us. We were so busy feeling left out and pushed back by the male power structure that we didn’t see that women of color felt the same way about us as we felt about the men.”
I’ll be honest, as a white woman who considers herself an ally to multicultural women, these discussions have sometimes been difficult to hear – but oh, so necessary. In fact, they are so necessary that I think individual companies nationwide should be following suit. I challenge all companies to take a cue from Working Mother and host their own same race/cross race circles this year. You can learn more details here or by attending our next National Multicultural Women’s Conference to see this approach in action.
These conversations are perfect for your employee resource groups to lead (barring that, your diversity office or human resources department could organize them). Indeed, practitioners, I challenge you to get this very real conversation going in your own company, to get beyond the assumptions so many of us have, and to strengthen your network of allies and your company culture to support a truly diverse workforce.
Jennifer Owens is Editorial Director of Working Mother magazine and Director of the Working Mother Research Institute.