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Working at the intersection: What Black women are up against

Black women face vast obstacles due to racism and sexism. Our research tells a clear story.

This page was created under the leadership of the Black women on the Lean In team.

Section I

And Still We Rise

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Living at the intersection of racism and sexism is far from easy. We are discriminated against for being Black and for being women, and we exist in both identities at all times. The story of Black women at work and in life is one of resilience. Despite the challenges and barriers in our way, we have accomplished so much and continue to make amazing strides. We are highly educated. We are ambitious. We are business owners forging our own paths. Our drive to succeed is often not just for ourselves, but also to lift up our communities.

Outside of work, we are at the forefront of social change. As the National Women’s Law Center has stated, “Almost all social justice movements were and are carried on the backs of Black women.”1 Our contributions to culture—in academia, literature, music, fashion, social media, feminism, and so much more—are undeniable. And we challenge society to be better. As Maya Angelou said in 1978, “Out of the huts of history’s shame, I rise. Up from a past that’s rooted in pain, I rise.”2 We rise.

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We are highly educated.

  • Black women enroll in college at higher rates than men overall and—most notably—at higher rates than white men3

  • Between 2004 and 2014, the share of Black women with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by 24%4

We are ambitious—for ourselves and to make the workplace better for others.

  • As many Black women as white men (41%) say that they want to become top executives5

  • Of Black women who want to become top executives, about half—more than any other racial or ethnic group of women—say they are motivated by the desire to be role models for others like them6

  • More than half of Black women who want to become top executives also say that they are driven by a desire to influence the culture of their workplace—again, they are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group of women to name this as a motivation7

Get the data in our Women in the Workplace report
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We are the fastest-rising entrepreneurial group among women.

  • Between 1997 and 2017, the number of Black women–owned businesses grew by more than 600%, compared to just 39% for white women–owned businesses and 114% for women-owned businesses overall8

Support Black women–owned businesses

We mobilize our communities, friends, and families to vote.

  • In 2018, 84% of Black women voters said they’d talked to their friends and family about voting, the highest percentage of any racial or ethnic group9

  • Black women also tend to vote at higher rates than other groups. Despite voter suppression, eligible Black women voted at rates 6 percentage points above the national average in 201810

Section II

Systemic Racism at Work

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Black women are successful in many ways, but our achievements are in spite of glaring inequality in society—including the workplace. For the last five years, Lean In’s research on Women in the Workplace tells the same story: in so many different ways, Black women have a harder and worse experience than almost everyone else. We’re overrepresented in minimum-wage jobs. We’re hired and promoted more slowly. We are often the only Black woman in the room and experience a greater variety of microaggressions than women of other races and ethnicities. And we’re paid less than men and most other groups of women.

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We are overrepresented in minimum-wage jobs and almost nonexistent in the C-suite.

  • Black women make up 7% of the total workforce but account for 12% of minimum-wage earners11

  • Only 21% of C-suite leaders are women, only 4% are women of color, and only 1% are Black women12

  • Not a single Fortune 500 or S&P 500 company has a Black woman CEO (as of June 19, 2020)13

We face bias and systemic barriers in hiring and promotions.

  • For every 100 men hired into manager roles, only 64 Black women are hired14

  • For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 58 Black women are promoted15

  • 47% of Black transgender women report being fired, denied a promotion, or not hired because of their gender identity16

See how companies can support Black women at work
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We get less support from managers and sponsors.

  • Black women are less likely than white women to say that their managers give them chances to manage people and projects (36% vs. 43%), provide opportunities to showcase their work (36% vs. 41%), or help them navigate organizational politics (24% vs. 30%)18

  • Only 26% of Black women say they have equal access to sponsorship, compared with 32% of white women19

We are often the only Black person in the room.

  • In meetings and other common workplace scenarios, 54% of Black women are often the only or one of the only people of their race/ethnicity in the room21

  • Black women having this “Only” experience are significantly more likely than white women in the same situation to feel closely watched and to think that their actions reflect positively or negatively on other people like them22

  • As one Black woman described it, “I feel like I have to represent the entire race. I need to come across as more than proficient, more than competent, more than capable. I have to be ‘on’ all the time. Because in the back of someone’s mind, they could be judging the entire race based on me.”23

Get the data in our Women in the Workplace report
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We face a greater variety of microaggressions and instances of everyday racism.

  • 40% of Black women say they need to provide more evidence of their competence, compared to 28% of white women and 14% of men24

  • Black women are more likely than other women to hear people express surprise when they demonstrate strong language skills or other abilities (26% vs. 11% of white women and 8% of men)25

And on top of all of this, we are paid less.

  • On average, Black women are paid 38% less than white men and 21% less than white women27

  • 53% of Americans are not aware of the pay gap between Black and white women28

  • Pay discrepancies lead to vast discrepancies in total wealth—the average Black woman’s net worth is less than 1% of the average white man’s29

See how companies can support Black women at work

Section III

Beyond the Workplace

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The barriers Black women face aren’t limited to the workplace. Right now, our resilience is being tested in unprecedented ways. Black women are confronting anti-Black violence in the midst of a global health pandemic. We are risking our health and safety in essential work and in protests.

And we’ve been on the front lines of the fights for racial and gender equality for too long. More than ever, it’s important for everyone to be aware of what Black women are up against and understand how to be part of the solution.

Explore Lean In’s anti-racism library to help end white supremacy
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We are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the deep, long-standing biases against Black Americans that are built into our economy and healthcare system. Black women are shouldering more responsibility at home with less financial security, and Black people overall are experiencing worse health outcomes. Meanwhile, many Black women are put at risk by the work they do: a study from LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey on the impact of COVID-19 found that 51% of employed Black women are working on the front lines of the pandemic as essential workers, compared to 38% of white women.30

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We spend more time on housework and caregiving.

  • More than three-quarters of Black women (76%) are spending 3 or more hours per day on housework, compared to just over half (55%) of white women36

  • Compared to white women, Black women are spending an average of 12 more hours per week caring for children, and almost 3 times as many hours per week caring for elderly or sick relatives37

We are hardest hit financially.

  • Black women are almost twice as likely as white men to say that they’ve been laid off, furloughed, or had their hours and/or pay reduced because of COVID-19 (58% vs. 31%)33

  • Black women are almost twice as likely as white men to be worried about paying for basic needs without going into debt34

Explore Lean In’s COVID-19 resources for work

Regardless of COVID-19, we’re more likely to have our pain dismissed.

  • Doctors and other medical workers tend to underestimate and undertreat Black women’s pain, leading to worse health outcomes for us31

We are dying at higher rates.

  • Black people make up more than 70% of coronavirus-related deaths in multiple states in the U.S.32

“Out of the huts of history’s shame, I rise. Up from a past that’s rooted in pain, I rise.”

—Maya Angelou

Take action

Read Lean In’s anti-racism library to help end white supremacy

Get resources

Explore Lean In’s COVID-19 resources to help you at work

Get resources

Learn how companies can make the workplace equal for Black women

Get the info

Read Lean In’s Women in the Workplace report for solutions for companies

Get the data

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The team

Pamela Nonga Ngue

Senior Digital Content Specialist

Raena Saddler

VP, People & Managing Director

Jordan Miller-Surratt

Digital & Product Lead

Nikki Tucker

Senior Lead, Lean In Social

Madison Long

Senior Business Analyst

Rachel E. Cooke

Deputy Director of Communications

Darion McCoy

Designer for First+Third

Footnotes

  1. Amani Bethea, “Black Women Built That: Activist Queens Featuring Elaine Brown and Opal Tometi,” National Women’s Law Center (February 23, 2018), https://nwlc.org/blog/black-women-built-that-activist-queens-featuring-elaine-brown-opal-tometi/.
  2. Maya Angelou, “And Still I Rise,” in And Still I Rise (New York: Random House, 1978).
  3. National Center for Education Statistics, “Table 302.60: Percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college, by level of institution and sex and race/ethnicity of the student: 1970 through 2018,” Digest of Education Statistics (2019), https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_302.60.asp?current=yes.
  4. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, The Status of Black Women in the United States (2017), https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/The-Status-of-Black-Women-6.26.17.pdf.
  5. LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2019 (October 2019), unpublished data.
  6. LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2018 (October 2018), https://womenintheworkplace.com/2018.
  7. Ibid.
  8. American Express, The 2017 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report (2017), https://about.americanexpress.com/sites/americanexpress.newshq.businesswire.com/files/doc_library/file/2017_SWOB_Report_-FINAL.pdf.
  9. AAPI Civic Engagement Fund, Ahead of the Majority: Foregrounding Women of Color (2018), https://aapifund.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/8.20_Final_WOC_web.pdf.
  10. Melanie Eversley, “Black Women Voters Will Be Central to the 2020 Presidential Election, Experts Predict,” Fortune, June 20, 2019, https://fortune.com/2019/06/20/black-women-voters-2020-election/.
  11. American Association of University Women, “Black Women and the Pay Gap,” https://www.aauw.org/resources/article/black-women-and-the-pay-gap/.
  12. LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2019.
  13. Emma Hinchliffe, “The number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 hits an all-time record,” Fortune, May 18, 2020, https://fortune.com/2020/05/18/women-ceos-fortune-500-2020/; Catalyst, “Pyramid: Women in S&P 500 Companies” (January 15, 2020), https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-sp-500-companies/.
  14. LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2019.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Sandy E. James, Carter Brown, and Isaiah Wilson, 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey: Report on the Experiences of Black Respondents (2015), https://www.transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/usts/USTS-Black-Respondents-Report.pdf.
  17. LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2019.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid.
  20. LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2018, unpublished data.
  21. LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2019, unpublished data.
  22. Ibid.
  23. LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2018.
  24. LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2019.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, "The Gender Wage Gap: 2018" (September 2019), https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/C484.pdf. The 21% gap between Black and white women is calculated by LeanIn.Org based on IWPR data.
  28. LeanIn.Org, “The Pay Gap Is the Tip of the Iceberg for Black Women,” PR Newswire, August 22, 2019, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-pay-gap-is-the-tip-of-the-iceberg-for-black-women-300905708.html.
  29. LeanIn.Org, “Women are paid less than men—and that hits harder in an economic crisis” (2019), https://leanin.org/equal-pay-data-about-the-gender-pay-gap.
  30. LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey, “Women Are Maxing Out—and Burning Out—During COVID-19” (2020), https://media.sgff.io/sgff_r1eHetbDYb/2020-05-07/1588873077242/women-are-maxing-out-during-covid-19_1.pdf.
  31. Jamila Taylor, "Racism, Inequality, and Health Care for African Americans," The Century Foundation (December 19, 2019), https://production-tcf.imgix.net/app/uploads/2019/12/19172443/AfAmHealth_Jamila_PDF.pdf.
  32. ReNika Moore, “If COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, then why are Black people dying at higher rates?” ACLU (April 8, 2020), https://www.aclu.org/news/racial-justice/if-covid-19-doesnt-discriminate-then-why-are-black-people-dying-at-higher-rates/.
  33. LeanIn.Org, "The Coronavirus Is a Financial Crisis for Women" (2020), https://media.sgff.io/sgff_r1eHetbDYb/2020-05-18/1589844115711/the-coronavirus-is-a-financial-crisis-for-women_2.pdf.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Ibid.
  36. LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey, "Women Are Maxing Out—and Burning Out—During COVID-19".
  37. Ibid.