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    The Next Frontier

    When it comes to advancing women, one approach doesn?t fit all.

    By Joan Toth

    More than 36 percent of U.S. women are multicultural ? by 2050, they?ll be the majority of women. This shift has already transformed our retail consumer base and workforce, but it?s not being reflected in our leadership ranks.

    Not so long ago ? when ?diversity? was known as ?equal opportunity? ? diversity was seen as black and white, male and female. Little attention was paid to the extraordinary experiences and contributions of multicultural women, and this created a gap in understanding that persists today.

    Survey Says ?

    Earlier this year, 1,950 Network of Executive Women (NEW) members and supporters ? most of them women ? completed an in-depth survey on multicultural women?s leadership (a report based on these survey results will be published this fall).

    The findings were eye-opening. Although women share many experiences in the workplace and perceive many of the same barriers to leadership, there are many instances when the perceptions of multicultural and white women vary widely. (Multicultural in this reporting refers to individuals who identified themselves as African-American or Black, Hispanic or Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, mixed-race, Native American/Alaskan, and ?other.?)

    For instance, multicultural women surveyed were much more likely than white women to say they ?have experienced workplace bias? (44 percent versus 32 percent). While 56 percent of multicultural women said they face greater work bias than white women do fewer than 28 percent of white women agreed. Likewise multicultural women were more than twice as likely as white women to say that white women are more likely to advance in the workplace (51 percent versus 21 percent).

    The majority of all respondents agreed that ?white men have an advantage in the workplace? but a greater percentage of multicultural women agreed.

    It was no surprise that white women (and men) were less likely to perceive bias in the workplace ? it?s harder to see bias happening to someone else ? but these wide differences in perception should serve as a wake-up call.

    Companies Get Low Marks

    White women were more likely to agree that ?my organization includes the perspectives of multicultural women in making important decisions? than multicultural women (32 percent versus 26 percent), but neither group gave our industry high marks on this telling question.

    While more than 75 percent of both multicultural and white women surveyed said they?ve had ?mostly positive? workplace experiences, one-third of all women (32 percent) and 38 percent of multicultural women said their careers are ?stuck.?

    Only half of those surveyed said they have a sponsor or mentor, and an astounding 54 percent reported being bullied or harassed at work.

    Although most women agreed with the statement ?I trust my supervisor,? white women were more likely (73 percent) than multicultural women (62 percent) to do so. No wonder, then, that multicultural women are less likely than white women to feel free to be open and authentic at work. Forty-five percent of multicultural women said they ?don?t share important aspects of their personal life at work,? compared with 35 percent of white women.

    Bad For You

    Company policies and corporate cultures that ignore the unique qualities of multicultural women are doing a disservice to all women and to their organizations. It?s bad for multicultural women deprived of opportunities to advance, for work teams denied the benefits of diverse leadership, and for retailers that lose multicultural women?s unique insights.

    Companies that ignore the unique qualities of multicultural women are doing a disservice to all women ? and to themselves.

    By Joan Toth
    • About Joan Toth Joan Toth is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women (NEW), a learning and leadership community with more than 8,500 members representing 750 companies, nearly 100 sponsors and 20 regions in the United States and Canada. For more information, visit newonline.org.

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