Black women are leaving corporate America and its low-paying jobs. They’re choosing alternative paths to success while being mothers, mentors, and money-makers despite feeling undervalued in the workplace for so long.
Black women are leaving corporate America in droves. Meanwhile, the past two years have not been easy on any of us. Life has felt like an uphill battle between the COVID-19 pandemic, political upheaval, and racial inequality in the workplace. However, women of color are forging a new path to success, and it doesn’t depend on corporate affiliations.
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It all started during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. During that time, unemployment rates shot through the roof. The number of people without work has been at an all-time high since the Great Recession of 2008. Due to supply chain disruptions and other unpredictable circumstances, many people were furloughed, laid off, or fired.
According to a CNBC report published in January 2022, the unemployment rate for black women increased by 6.2% at the end of the year. Interestingly, women of color comprised the only ethnic/gender group whose work status worsened toward the end of the pandemic. Thus, black women are leaving corporate America for more stability and financial freedom.
Women of color represent the highest demographic for unemployment in the United States, pandemic aside. As a result, many have started looking for better work. Most want jobs that make them feel valued regardless of politics, and just about everyone wants higher pay.
Black women are the most undervalued group of employees in the country. They’re also paid less than their black and white male counterparts. On average, working women of color receive about 37% less than white men who do the same job. That means around half of all black females have trouble paying for basic living expenses, even with fantastic corporate careers.
Surveys show that many African American women feel like they have to work harder for the same level of respect, recognition, and revenue. Black females comprise nearly a quarter of entry-level corporate positions. However, here is how the rest of the situation looks:
- 9% Senior Managers
- 7% VP-Level
- 5% SVP
- 4% C-Suite
As we consider the mathematics, we see that women of color are leaving corporate America because they only represent 20% of the pie. White women and men still dominate the playing field, making more money than their ethnic coworkers. At the same time, women of color must endure subtle racism, micro-aggressions, and blatant prejudice from bosses, colleagues, and partners.
The summer of 2020 brought countless questions about how black employees compare to other racial groups in the workplace. Corporate America finally woke up and started having conversations about inequality and injustice. They ultimately decided to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) on the job while offering new incentives to working black women.
Rachel Thomas, the Co-founder and CEO of Leanin.org, gave a scathing interview about racial inequality to CNBC. She stated, “If you look at the experience of black women in corporate America, the pattern is really clear: the workplace is worse for women of color than white women, and Black women consistently stand out as having the worst experience of all.”
Black women are leaving corporate America searching for something more liberating and satisfying. A recent Barrons article by Jarie A. Bradley and Kristina C. Dove offered a clear perspective on why that’s happening. The authors describe how organizations aren’t always ready for ambitious women of color. They also cite how many companies think black women are “too much” or “not enough” of one thing or another.
“These environments can turn black women from fearless wildflowers into shrinking violets,” say the authors. However, nobody should feel uncomfortable at work, nor should they be forced into code-switching to get along with colleagues. That’s why black women choose financial autonomy by leaving corporate America to become entrepreneurs.
Black women fed up with systematic racism are finally stepping out of their shells to embrace entrepreneurial lifestyles. Meanwhile, women of color have launched businesses to make their own income for centuries. The current trend is nothing new, and many believe it was only a matter of time until a mass migration happened.
Becoming a small business owner means never having to endure racially charged inequalities in a corporate setting. Yet, it doesn’t shield black female entrepreneurs from the systematic roadblocks elsewhere. While women are generally the glue that holds things together, their corporate influence is slowly coming unhinged. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out for fortune 500 companies and other organizations.
In the meantime, the number of black-owned businesses has skyrocketed since 2019. Women of color outpace men of color by nearly 50% in the entrepreneurial arena. The Guardian also noticed this exciting trend, stating, “Women of color make up only 39% of women in the US, but represent 89% of new women-owned businesses.” That means black women are leaving corporate America for themselves and their families.
Until now, women of color lacked many resources to launch a startup or become successful solopreneurs. Luckily, the tides are finally turning. Females of color have begun establishing like-minded social groups, professional training courses, and educational materials to help working women unite. One gleaming example is a company called EnrichHER, founded by Roshawnna Novellus.
The site acts as a platform to connect female-led organizations with other ethnic entrepreneurs for funding without equity debacles. As it stands, the resource leans heavily toward helping black women leave their corporate positions for more inclusive ventures. Novellus also established guidelines that align with black women’s ambitions and challenges.
Black women-owned businesses are more prevalent than ever before in American society. With technology at their fingertips, ambitious women of color can quickly gain momentum in various groups. Social media also helps them launch campaigns and spread the word about their goals, inviting other black women to do the same.
As a result of their audacity, the number of black women running a side hustle increased by 99% since the pandemic. Compare that to the average 32% annual increase of all solopreneurs, and you can clearly see the trajectory. Black women are leaving corporate America to try new gigs or work part-time on projects that don’t rely on established racial inequality to remain profitable. Basically, they’re starting an economic revolution with or without corporate support.
Here are some of the most common side gigs for entry-level entrepreneurs leaving company positions:
- Etsy Shops
- Social Media Management
- Virtual Assisting
- Content Creation
- Customer Service Representative
Dell Ginnes wrote in a recent Forbes article that many black women founders may be single parents who need a second income to make ends meet. He discussed the ramifications of balancing family needs with corporate pressures. Thus, he cites how difficult it is for some women of color to leap from business executive to freelancer or otherwise. Ginnes also states, “Women responsible for the household tend to keep the size of businesses artificially low because they need health insurance from a primary employer.” In short, diligent black entrepreneurial women typically look for opportunities that give them confidence as breadwinners and nurturers.
While not everyone can afford to quit their corporate jobs in favor of a side gig or small business, black women are leaving corporate America anyway. They choose to start and scale side gigs or develop new skills despite the challenges. Thus, the rise of black female dreamers is apparent and not stopping anytime soon.
Now is the best time to start uplifting black women in the workplace. That’s because diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are significant subjects that help level the playing field. However, adherence to DEI policies isn’t enough to spark meaningful change. Corporations must also adopt a new way of doing business to demonstrate allegiance to undervalued employees.
How do you make an impact in a white-male-dominant economy? Like this:
- You hire more black women for management positions.
- Allow women of color to be a part of the hiring/firing process.
- Provide mentorship and other career-advancement opportunities.
- Offer pathways to promotions through training and education.
- Evaluate earnings and close the gender wage gap.
Professor Alexandra Carter spoke about the approach in an MSNBC interview. She said, “Instead of just wondering why did this woman of color not get promoted, [companies should] zoom out and ask the bigger question: What’s our promotion system? What are we doing to retain and nurture the top talent of color?”
She later added that managers should ask more intelligent questions to determine the capacities of their undervalued staff. Executives must also answer questions and discuss comments or concerns one-on-one instead of hosting potentially prejudicial groups. Giving corporate black women a voice in the company shows commitment to equality and helps excavate hidden talent.
Meanwhile, businesses should remain vigilant about removing micro-aggressions and subtly racist policies, behaviors, or interactions. Women of color should feel secure in their positions, whether entry-level or C-suite employees. Also, black women deserve equal consideration for promotions, earnings increases, and other workplace incentives. They deserve flexibility, not favoritism. Thus, black women are leaving corporate America until they can valuable to the bottom line.
Shifting from a stable corporate position to an unstable freelance job can be challenging. There are several steps to take, which may render unpredictable results. However, many corporate jobs aren’t as stable as they seem, as evidenced by the impact of COVID-19. That means hardworking black women can make a confident leap of faith with a well-formed plan.
Each person is different, so their financial independence approach will also be. Unique obstacles can get in the way of success, and racial inequality won’t disappear overnight. Therefore, black women are leaving corporate America only after following these three simple steps:
Find out what you bring to the table as a black woman in corporate America. Then translate those skills into a side gig or small business. Try to develop your talents and become an authority in your industry. That way, you can compete with bigger competitors despite racial injustices or gender-related discrepancies.
Look for individuals, organizations, and companies that align with your vision. Refuse to work with or help entities that don’t respect racial differences. Then, provide support for organizations that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Become a driving force in the transformation of corporate America.
Don’t forget about the challenges you faced as a member of the business world. Remember how administrators treated you. Evaluate policies or guidelines that hindered your professional growth. Then be sure to develop a strategy that removes those barriers and sets an example for other companies in your industry.
As black women are leaving corporate America, it is everyone else’s responsibility to support their ambitions and remove racially-centered barriers. The reason is that most businesses have allowed discriminatory practices to permeate their policies. Thus, only they can remove or rewrite standards to invite women of color back into the workplace. Until then, we’ll see more and more black-owned businesses pop up and succeed regardless.
Black women are leaving corporate America for more promising things, including starting their own businesses and enjoying a better work-life balance. They no longer want to serve companies that don’t help them in return. Low-paying positions, income debacles, and micro-aggressions force women of color to make a choice. They choose themselves this time.
About the Author
K. Edwin Bryant is a highly respected senior pastor, professor and academic, published author, and corporate strategist with a passion to advocate for underrepresented communities.
Dr. Bryant has a Ph.D. from Macquarie University, Sydney, AU in Ancient History: New Testament and Early Christianity. Currently, Bryant is the COO of Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International, Senior Pastor and CEO of Dayton, Ohio’s Mount Pisgah Church, chairman of the Board for Tehillah Music Group, and an adjunct professor of the New Testament & Early Christianity.
He uses his leadership and influence to pry open spaces of white privilege and create pathways of equality and belonging for the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities.
In Dr. Bryant’s book ChaRIOT: The New Cultural Conversation, he confronts difficult conversations to help non-blacks reinterpret public responses to oppression imposed on and experienced by the black community.
Dr. Bryant currently resides outside of Dayton Ohio with his wife and children. When he’s not working on a multitude of projects or catching up on trending events; you might find him watching Netflix (especially the Blacklist) or hitting the piano inspired by artists such as Robert Glasper, Moonchild, and Corey Henry.