Despite reforms in the United States such as the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, racism continues to have pernicious effects. Following the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others, people of all races and countries are demanding the elimination of systemic racism and bringing awareness to the fact that, for many Black Americans, the American Dream continues to be deferred, to paraphrase the great poet Langston Hughes.
LIFE AS A BLACK WOMAN
Life as an African American woman is full of hurdles. The intersectionality of being Black and a woman places me at a unique disadvantage within the hierarchy of American society. The Black Lives Matter movement, created by a Black woman but now supported by people of all races, is important in our quest for positive change. Black lives have been devalued for too long, dating back to chattel slavery and subsequently Jim Crow laws and the era of racial segregation.
There’s an overwhelming amount of data that illustrates fundamental inequalities that persist in the U.S., all of which impacts the stability and professional prospects of Black women:
- Black mortgage applicants are more likely to be denied loans than aspiring homeowners of other races, according to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (bit.ly/30wd05T). Just 44% of the Black population are homeowners, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (bit.ly/2CV82rf). Lower incomes and higher rates of poverty, combined with difficulties in getting mortgage approval, mean that homeownership rates for Black Americans remain low.
- In 2018, Black Americans were nearly twice as likely as white Americans to lack health insurance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
- The maternal mortality rate is particularly high for Black women. The state of New Jersey—which ranked 47th nationwide for maternal health outcomes—had a maternal mortality rate (or the ratio of women who die during pregnancy, childbirth, or within a year of delivery to overall births) of 37 out of 100,000, well over the national average of nearly 16 in 100,000, according to 2013 state data, the most recent available. The mortality rate for Black women in New Jersey was even higher at 46.5.
- Black Americans are also overrepresented in the U.S. prison population relative to their share of the total U.S. population. In 2018, Black inmates made up roughly 33% of the country’s prison population but just 12% of the U.S. population. Having a criminal record reduces employer callback rates by 50%, and the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals is almost five times higher than the unemployment rate for the general U.S. population, according to the Prison Policy Initiative (bit.ly/3fJZcuR).
But it isn’t just about economic disparity; racism is an everyday reality for Black Americans. I face challenges, discrimination, and microaggressions every day. For example, I’ve been mistaken many times as the nanny of my three beautiful biracial children because I’m of a darker complexion and they have a lighter skin tone.
In the professional sphere, my résumé was usually overlooked when I applied for jobs using my maiden name, but that changed when I took my husband’s last name, Giotta. While it’d be difficult to prove definitively, I suspect that I’ve been denied job opportunities because of the color of my skin. My skills and experience looked like a great fit on paper and I nailed the interviews, but I was told that I wasn’t getting a job offer. The way I look impacts hiring managers’ perception of me as a candidate.
BEING A PART OF THE SOLUTION
Organizations can also make a difference by investing in diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives. IMA is doing great work to help our members, staff, and professionals in the management accounting and finance profession to recognize the importance of D&I and understand how it can be leveraged as part of organizations’ strategic planning to improve performance, results, fairness, and employees’ well-being.
We recently launched IMA’s D&I Toolkit, which outlines best practices for developing a robust D&I program and provides educational resources. We have staff trainings on many D&I topics such as cultivating a bias-free workplace and cultural awareness. We’ve created a forum for employees to talk about systemic racism.
Ethical people in business have an opportunity to look in the mirror and think about what they can do to bring about change within their organizations and across the world. A good first step is to ensure your organization has staff dedicated to diversity and inclusion. It’s also important to make your voice heard and advocate for fairness and equality of opportunities regardless of race or ethnicity, especially in meetings, webcasts, and conference calls that include your organization’s senior leaders.
Congressman John Lewis, who passed away on July 17, 2020, once said, “If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” It takes courage, bravery, leadership, and sacrifice to help make the world a better place for all, and that struggle to achieve justice and D&I ideals can begin right in the workplace.