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Uncovering the Leadership Potential of Black Women in America

July 26, 2007 by  
Filed under Money/Business, News, Weekly Columns

CHICAGO, July 26 /Akiit.com/ — Because the lives of professional black women in America have been understudied and their contributions as leaders often undervalued, The League of Black Women (LBW) conducted its “LBW Having Our Say: Fostering the Leadership Potential of Black Women in America Survey” to help identify and eliminate the challenges black women face as they strive to fulfill their leadership potential and achieve socio-economic parity for themselves, their families and their communities.

The report includes an assessment of the key barriers to black women realizing their leadership potential; recommendations for how corporations can remove those barriers and support retention; and personal accounts of professional black women striving to rise to leadership positions despite the odds. The data found only 20 percent of black women are “very satisfied” with their overall lives, and respondents reported greater and more pervasive degrees of frustration with advancing in their careers.

The League of Black Women is committed to supporting and developing leadership values and joyful living for the 21st century black woman,” said Sandra Finley, president/CEO. “With this report we provide essential support and timely advice to corporations on specific methods and recommendations to recruit, retain and empower black women as leaders. By implementing our suggested strategies, we believe companies can improve their efforts toward achieving greater workforce diversity.”

The nationwide survey, conducted between 2005 and 2007 in partnership with Booz Allen Hamilton, was designed to gather preliminary data on black women’s views about their leadership experiences and satisfaction with their lives. The report highlights three key findings identified as critical factors that influence the level of satisfaction black women obtain in their professional and personal lives. Among the factors include Engagement, defined as institutions and people that have the greatest impact on black women’s lives; Cohesion, the quality of black women’s relationships with each other; and Bicultural Leadership, used to describe circumstances in which black women lead or exude authority over non-blacks in the workplace. Some specific factors of Engagement, Cohesion and Bicultural Leadership that affect and hinder the overall professional development, advancement and retention of black women in the workplace include:

Engagement — Under-representation of black women within an organization diminishes essential networking power — Pressure to hide authentic personal style and professional perspective results in exhaustion (affects productivity) Cohesion — Limited professional options that impede black women from having close relationships with each other in corporate environments — Black women are more committed to their organizations when they are able to form close bonds with other black women Bicultural Leadership — Proven leadership ability doesn’t reliably translate into promotion opportunities — Underutilization of education and skill set relegates black women to lower-level jobs

Although black women report they hope to reach their goal of rising to leadership positions, they believe hard work and positive thinking are not enough to obtain the opportunities they seek. To ensure black women have the tools needed to advance, the report suggests corporations need to design distinctive and targeted strategies to develop and advance black women with high potential. Given the limited number of black women as contemporary role models, companies must understand the real time experiences of black women who aspire to obtain corporate leadership jobs and work to provide effective assistance. To combat and address these issues, The League of Black Women recommends corporate leaders promote the concepts of Engagement, Cohesion and Bicultural Leadership in the following ways to support development and retention:

Engagement — Foster a culture of inclusion that addresses the needs of black women as defined by black women — Implement policies and practices that respect the need for communal support within and beyond the workplace Cohesion — Create coaching resources, mentoring programs, networking opportunities and affinity groups for women of color — Appreciate cultural and style differences without censure Bicultural Leadership — Provide early leadership coaching to help black women successfully confront negative stereotypes — Recognize and develop black women’s distinctive leadership skills — Identify and end business practices that steer black women with high potential into dead-end jobs

According to the study, black women still see negative perceptions about race as a barrier keeping them from reaching their career goals. As professionals, they believe that others’ negative views of them in the workplace hinder their ability to excel in leadership roles. Nearly 80 percent surveyed cited race bias as a hurdle affecting their effectiveness as leaders, to some extent. Respondents said race bias affects interactions with individuals who potentially could influence and advance their career track. Additionally, the report suggests, black women find themselves stagnant in mid and lower level positions that are threatened by corporate downsizing, mergers and acquisitions that cause retention rates of black women to drop.

But despite the overlapping obstacles black women face on their climb up the corporate ladder, the League of Black Women believes if corporations empower black women, their strengths and leadership abilities can be leveraged to help increase company performance and expand business growth.

For more information on The League of Black Women and the “Fostering the Leadership Potential of Black Women in America Survey,” please visit http://www.leagueofblackwomen.org/.

About The League of Black Women

The League of Black Women (LBW), founded in 1970, is a nonprofit organization that provides access to strategic support for developing and sustaining leadership values and joyful living for black women. LBW seeks to ensure that black women emerge as distinctive leaders who contribute to the substantial and lasting improvements that shape our world.

The League of Black Women
CONTACT: Miya A. Walker of LAGRANT COMMUNICTIONS, +1-323-469-8680,
Ext. 247, miyawalker@lagrant.com, for The League of Black Women

Web site: http://www.leagueofblackwomen.org/

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