New Data On How Race Shapes Women's Workplace Experiences May Surprise You

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One statistic that’s floated to the fore in the days after the U.S presidential election is the 53% of white women who voted for Trump. Theories for why are plentiful, but some have argued that the blame for Clinton’s loss can’t just be assigned to women voters as a bloc, particularly since her support among women of color was overwhelming.

In a campaign where gender commanded so much airtime and at times seemed to become a source of political division all by itself, it’s worth asking why racial and ethnic identifications appear to have largely superseded gender solidarity. And it’s worth wondering whether similar patterns might be playing out beyond politics—including in the workplace.

Unexpected Demographic Divides

Psychologist Kristen Anderson recently explained to USA Today that many women of color have not had the privilege of perceived or nominal protection in society to the same degree that many white women have—leaving them with less cause to vote for Trump. Other women have come out rejecting the idea that they voted for the President-elect on the basis of anything other than the policy changes he’s touted.

To help make sense of all this, I turned to the data we gather here at the women’s employer review platform Fairygodboss on gender and ethnicity, to see whether job-satisfaction levels and opinions about gender equality in the workplace shed any light on the divisions in the electorate.

What we found surprised us. You might think that women of color suffer from workplace biases (both overt and unconscious) that, on balance, affect them more negatively than Caucasian women. Certainly gender pay gap data shows that Hispanic, black, and Native American women have lower median annual earnings relative to Caucasian and Asian women. But while Caucasian women comprise 70% of our total community, they haven’t been the most positive group when it comes to gender equality in their workplaces.

It’s Asian American women who in fact occupy that position—they’re the most likely to say that their employers were fair to them. From a sample of over 3,500 women of all races and ethnicities in our community, 66% of our Asian women users report that their employers treat men and women equitably. They’re followed in that sentiment by African-American women, 60% of whom have said they’ve experienced gender equality at work. Caucasian women are next in line, with 56% reporting gender equality, while Hispanic women seem to have fared the worst (54%).

More Questions Than Answers

When it comes to job satisfaction, the results may not be what you’d expect. Here, too, it wasn’t white women who proved the happiest cohort overall. The highest average job-satisfaction levels were again reported by Asian American women (rating their satisfaction an average of 3.4 on a 1–5 scale, with 5 being most satisfied). Hispanic women came in next, followed by Caucasian women, and black women reported the lowest levels of average job satisfaction at 3.1.

How come? As a Chinese-American woman myself, I wasn’t as shocked by the positive data reported by Asian women. To be sure, some of my first, instinctive rationalizations probably illustrate my own knee-jerk biases, but I suspect they still play a role. Asians are stereotypically considered a “model minority,” an ideal that may spare us from certain forms of discrimination while saddling us with others. And while there are relatively few Asian men or women in leadership positions in corporate America, it’s a cohort that’s often believed to achieve a disproportionate amount of professional success due to a combination of cultural upbringing and educational privilege (the data is clear on some of those measures but open to interpretation).

More confounding were the responses from other groups of women. Why would white women feel they experienced less gender equality than black women, for instance? It isn’t immediately clear why black women report more gender equality than Hispanic women, or white women less job satisfaction than Hispanic women.

I’m no expert on intersectionality and the socioeconomic impacts of overlapping identity groups, but many of the diversity and inclusion experts I’ve spoken to believe that when it comes to corporate support, certain identities create stronger affiliations—which seems to have been the case in the electorate, too. Many of those conversations lead me to wonder how many black, female employees may prefer to join an employee resources group for women of color than one for women as a whole. Indeed, many women of color still perceive racism to be a bigger threat to them than sexism is. Put another way, modern feminism in the U.S. doesn’t seem to need to demonstrate a Women’s Lives Matter equivalent to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Admittedly, the Fairygodboss community is not perfectly representative of the American female labor force. The tens of thousands of women we attract skew millennial, high-income, and white-collar professional. But it’s still interesting to see that Caucasian women don’t necessarily experience more positive feelings or perceived privilege in the workplace relative to women of color.

That may hint at a lesson for those of us trying to make sense of why certain women voted for either Trump or Clinton. Race and gender may explain a great deal when it comes to our daily experiences as well as our voting patterns, but in elections—as in the workplace—data has its limits. Sometimes it raises more (and deeper) questions than it answers.

But there’s hardly a better sign of the importance of asking them than the fact that so many white women helped elect Trump. The types of grievances and forms of discrimination women face in society and at work are sure to evolve in the next four years in ways we won’t anticipate. To address them, we’ll need to expect the unexpected—and keep listening to one another better than ever.

Georgene Huang is CEO and cofounder of Fairygodboss, a leading career community featuring anonymous job reviews for women, by women. She’s obsessed with understanding how to improve the workplace for women.

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