The State of Black Women Leadership

by | inspiration

At a statewide advocacy organization where she worked, Executive Director Sheena Rolle watched as upper level management consistently undermined her efforts to foster change in her organization. Denied room to execute effective means of change due to stifling administrative restraints and micromanagement, Sheena began to dread work.

Highly qualified and competent, she shared, “I began to have anxiety attacks. I felt out of control and nervous. I felt I had to keep proving myself and justifying my overall existence.” The saddest aspect of this story is that Sheena is not alone.

Black women are more likely than white women to report feeling stalled and that their talents aren’t as recognized by their superiors, a 2015 study titled Black Women Ready to Lead reports. While Sheena had difficulty in her role, unfortunately, she was one of the few lucky Black women who made it to the top of their organization. Almost 50% of qualified Black women report being overlooked for promotion. As Black women, we are battling a dual reality of invisibility and silence.

What Black women want most from work is the ability to flourish, to excel, to reach for meaning and purpose, to earn well, and to empower others and to be empowered, the study reports. However, our desires remain unmet.

I discovered Black women are overrepresented in the lowest-earning and least secure jobs, as well as among the uninsured, the unemployed, and impoverished. How do we sisters get ahead?

The 2015 study suggests we must change the lens through which senior management assesses leadership potential. Senior leaders, who are often White men, tend to select, groom and promote individuals who remind them of themselves. Therefore, unconscious bias blinds them to prospective leaders of other backgrounds.While changing the system is great, we cannot wait for others to change their opinions of us.

My #1 tip to help Black women take charge of their careers: Become a proactive contributor to your success. We must forge our own path!

I found through my own leadership journey of taking charge, we must invest in mentors and resources that will maximize our leadership skills so that we can create the careers and lives we desire. Over a two year period, my former job, a premier statewide advocacy group, created two leadership positions for me at the top. The last role: Co-Executive Director. Those promotions occurred because I utilized proven strategies. I suggest Black women invest in three key areas:

1) Value & Strength Discovery

One of the first steps to becoming an effective leader is to know oneself or what I term, “Who You Be.” Self-awareness and empathy are key components to effectively leading and meeting the needs of our global community. Many of us are well versed in our weaknesses and shortcomings, but have little knowledge of our talents and strengths.

2) Coaching and Mentorship

Mentors and sponsors are critical for professional advancement. Unfortunately, many of us don’t have access to professional Black women in our organizations and fields. Part of taking charge of your career is investing in professional mentorship through private coaching and online courses. Doing so helped me to fill gaps in my professional development.

3) Leadership & Entrepreneurial Training

Great leaders are made, not born. Leadership is more than being charismatic or doing a “good job.” It’s about knowing how to build a mission and vision that inspires others to action, develop people and maximize their strengths, and create supportive work environments for success. Powerful leaders must know themselves, learn from the best in their fields, and master leaderships skills.

If you’re a Black woman desiring a powerful position, it’s up to you to take charge of your career. Thankfully, many of us are doing just that. The 2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report released this month found that Black women-owned business are outpacing that of all women-owned firms. The number of black women-owned businesses has grown 322 percent since 1997. Today, Black women own roughly 14 percent of all businesses in the country owned by women (approximately 1.3 million businesses).

What’s even better?These Sisters are making money! Businesses owned by black women topped the charts in revenue growth when compared to other minority women-owned firms. Our economic clout is ever growing.

To be sure, while entrepreneurship seems a viable option, it’s wrought with many obstacles. Starting a business requires many steps such as identifying a need and raising working capital. Fortunately, one way to lessen the risk is to start a business while still at your job or leverage entrepreneurial skills for workplace success (i.e. intrapreneurship).

By discovering your values and strengths, investing in coaching and mentorship, and learning effective leadership skills, Black women can honor their callings and become the leaders they are meant to be.

I hope this inspires a few of you, Black women professionals, to activate your purpose and to no longer let circumstances stifle you. You can have what you desire out of your career.

For additional resources and strategies related to Black women leadership and entrepreneurship, please grab the Black Women Rise free guide: 12 Effective Leadership Resources for Black Women


Leave a comment: What strategies do you recommend for Black women to get ahead in their careers?

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