Blog Post

Four Ways to Provide Access to the C-Suite for Multicultural Women

May 23, 2017

The American workforce continues to diversify, however, the low representation of multicultural women in executive positions has remained relatively unchanged. Whether it is unconscious bias, pay inequity, or lack of sponsors championing for their advancement, among a host of barriers, multicultural women remain stalled. There are many ways companies can increase access to higher level positions for multicultural women and afford them access to the C-suite.

Here are four ways companies can increase access into the C-suite for multicultural women:

1. Flat-level organization

Establishing flat level team structures improves future outcomes in regards to more multicultural women entering the C-suite. A flat level team structure refers to an organization structure with few or no levels of management between higher level employees and staff level employees. The flat organization promotes more involvement in the decision-making process as opposed to an organization that micro-manages. Employees are given more responsibilities and communication is improved. This ensures that those on the top are not constantly getting all of the challenging projects, but that work can be distributed more evenly. This would also create more opportunities for women to advance when a position becomes available. A flat level structure could lend itself to informal mentorship opportunities—giving junior employees more occasions to ask questions and learn from the experienced team members around them.

2. Pairing entry level employees with senior level executives

Sponsors are able to identify weak spots in job performance and help find remedies, expand career vision, elevate ambition and advocate vigorously for specific promotions. Many organizations such as Deutsche Bank, Unilever, Sodexo, and IBM Europe have implemented sponsorship programs to facilitate the promotion of high-potential women. The programs match sponsors and protégés by the protégés goals and train sponsors to produce results based on the goals communicated. The sponsors and protégés are taught to hold each other accountable so that the relationship is mutually beneficial. According to The Status of Men as Allies for Multicultural Women conducted by Working Mother Research Institute, in the past 24 months 40% of multicultural women who reported having sponsors received a promotion compared to 29% of multicultural women who did not have a sponsor. Additionally, 78% of multicultural women with sponsors reported they have received a pay increase compared to 60% of multicultural women who did not have a sponsor. It is important to note that multicultural women who report having mentors or sponsors are far more satisfied with their employers because they feel like they are being invested in, enabling them to stay with the company longer.

3. More visibility and stretch assignments

Offering more difficult assignments to entry-level employees allows employees to demonstrate their worth and for senior level executives to see them in a different light. Employees are able to gain crucial experience that will help women to progress in their career. The protégés are able to acquire new skill sets that will be used for years to come. Visibility and stretch assignments challenge the employee in ways that will help them to grow and hone their skill-set.

4. Leadership development programs

Leadership development expands the capacity of individuals to perform in leadership roles within organizations. The programs provide resources for employees to continually evolve as effective leaders who create value for the business. Leadership development is thought to be key to business success because it develops leadership abilities and attitudes needed for a company to excel. Leadership programs allow companies to have a well-rounded group of leaders to choose from when a leadership position has opened up.

None of these suggestions can work in a vacuum. It is crucial that there is a dedicated focus on identifying and supporting women of color to be able to take advantage of these programs and structures. Senior leaders within a company must avidly pursue women of color and include them in these initiatives. The women who are commonly chosen should have the opportunity to identify their colleagues that will benefit from flat level organizations, sponsorship, stretch assignments, and leadership programs. Companies must continually work towards an inclusive culture to ensure every employee is involved. Employee Resource Groups provide a natural talent pool from which to develop talent.

There is no definite route to the C-suite; however, multicultural women have more access when there are multiple paths to advancement available. If there are no C-suite positions open for multicultural women to enter, companies should not wait but create those opportunities to ensure that their company is well rounded.