Women of Color Are Not Advancing, Despite Progress for White Women

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Georgene Huang5.35k
CEO & Co-founder of Fairygodboss
May 19, 2024 at 5:19AM UTC

According to a leadership diversity study released this month, fewer than 27 percent of Fortune 50 companies have women on boards and fewer than 23 percent of Fortune 50 companies have women in leadership positions. The Rising Tides, a consulting firm that works with companies to make their workplaces better for women, found that while those statistics are far from making the Fortune 50 shining exemplars of gender parity, the data about women overall is approximately six times better than the statistics regarding women of color at those same companies.

In fact, women of color comprise only 4 percent of directors of the Fortune 50 companies and of their leadership teams, respectively. In other words, while 2018 may be a headline year in terms of progress for women on boards, women of color are lagging far behind their Caucasian counterparts.

In the Rising Tides study, the definition of ‘leadership’ was based on Fortune 50 companies’ public disclosures regarding their C-suite employees as well as any direct reports to the CEO. The data was confirmed with companies directly, whenever possible. According to founder of the Rising Tides, Eileen Scully, the findings confirmed what she suspected, but...was much more stark than she would have guessed. 

Scully told me, “Half of the Fortune 50 have no non-white women on their leadership teams. So it seems that companies got the message about having women on their boards and teams. Every one of them has at least one woman but very few have people of color, and fewer still have women of color in positions of power. And for those who have a woman of color on their board, it’s likely she appears on several other boards.” She cites Ursula Burns as the most striking example of this. 

In terms of this index, 2018 is the inaugural measurement year and it may be broadened to include additional Fortune 100 companies next year. Publicly available employee diversity and demographic data (something Fairygodboss partner companies often disclose to our community of women) is often so hard to find because few companies are brave enough to publish it, much less make it easy to compare with other firms. That may be one reason the Rising Tides is not making the full index publicly available at this time. That, and Scully tells me that, “I’d prefer to focus on the companies that are doing well, and those that are committing to and making changes, rather than the underperformers.”

She tells me that the at the top of the index, General Motors and Pepsi are tied for first. Archer Daniels Midland is the third highest scoring company in the Rising Tides Index. 

Scully believes that transparency about employee diversity and demographics can catalyze change. While diversity is a stubborn problem, she believes that companies who want to see change should “commit publicly to changing the profile of their leadership” on a certain specific timeline, in addition to “acknowledging that they don’t represent their overall employee base, their consumers, and that they’re not capitalizing on the talent available to them.”


A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.

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