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Despite Corporate America’s attempts to be more diverse, more than 35% of African Americans say they “need to compromise their authenticity” to conform to their company’s standards of demeanor or style, according to a new research report from the Center for Talent Innovation. An alarming 40% of African Americans said they feel like outsiders in their corporate culture — compared to only 26% of Caucasians. One African American executive bluntly describes their experience in Corporate America as: “…a theater, and I try to remember to stay in character.” So, are African Americans ‘the elephant in the room’ of Corporate America?
Considering the number of lawsuits filed for racial discrimination at big companies (e.g. Panera Bread, Pepsi Beverages, Mercedes Benz of Manhattan, etc.) it’s easy to understand why African Americans in Corporate America feel out of place. Author of The Inclusion Paradox, Andrés Tapia, believes Corporate America fails at making their employees feel included. ”Companies have been good at creating a workforce that looks different, he said. “They’ve fallen short when it comes to understanding how to develop a corporate culture where all employees feel included, respected, comfortable, and able to do their best work.”
In fear of being labeled as the stereotypical “angry black woman,” career-oriented black women often suffer from what Ella Bell, a professor at Tuck School of Business, deems as “bicultural stress” — the need to hide their real selves at the office. An African American senior executive weighed in on the discussion saying, “My style is direct. In the back of your mind, you wonder and worry whether you’re perceived as being demanding and confrontational.” When employees of color feel isolated, it oftentimes leads to disengagement and a greater likelihood of them leaving the employer.
One solution to the issue, according to Sylvia Hewlett of Harvard Business Review, is sponsorship. “Sponsorship can turn the uncertainties and insecurities of difference into the confidence and vision of career success,” she blogged. “With sponsorship, according to CTI data, protégés of color are 65% more likely than those without a sponsor to be satisfied with their rate of advancement. Having this advocate in the workplace enables them to feel more comfortable being themselves and do their best work. Knowing that someone has their back dampens the distrust and discomfort that ultimately leads to a multicultural brain drain. As a result, protégés are nearly 60% less likely to plan to quit within a year.”