board rooms, corporate, Black women

The 3 Systemic Issues Keeping Black Women Out Of Boardrooms

Childcare, travel, and the "broken rung" are major contributors that keep Black women out of corporate boardrooms.

Black women have been systemically left out of the C-suite and corporate boards of Fortune 500 companies, according to a new report. Despite strides to diversify the boardroom, covered in Black Women on Boards’ (BWOB) new documentary, three key obstacles still remain that keep Black women out.

Forbes highlighted Patricia Roberts Harris, whose story is told in BWOB’s OnBoard: Story of Black Women on Boards. Even as the feature celebrates the accomplishments of women such as Harris who are on corporate boards, it acknowledges the challenges preventing them from reaching new heights professionally. Outside factors also stunt Black women.

Childcare remains a burden for Black women trying to climb the corporate ladder. Almost half of Black mothers are raising their children as single parents, thus taking on greater hardship and expense for their family. By having to dedicate more time to their children’s needs compared to two-parent households, Black women have less freedom to pursue more significant roles at the office.

“It’s important that all working families, especially Black working mothers and other women of color, have access to quality child care while pursuing their careers,” said Gigi Schweikert the CEO of Lightbridge, whose study revealed that almost a quarter of working mothers lack partners in the home to help with daily responsibilities. “Oftentimes, company decision makers are seasoned executives who aren’t directly affected by the early child care needs their employees face, so it’s up to all of us to speak up, advocate for our needs, and communicate the challenges we’re facing.”

The “broken rung” is another factor, as missed promotions lead to a lack of consideration for board positions. Especially during tough job markets, Black women are relatively ignored for scarce promotion opportunities, often being forced to transition to new professions in order to gain more leadership roles.

Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code argued that their continued marginalization within the workplace leads to their notable absence in boardrooms.

“This oversight not only diminishes the individual’s contributions but also perpetuates a cycle of underrepresentation and undervaluation that hinders the career progression of Black working mothers,” said Bryant.

Travel was also cited as a detrimental factor, as travel requirements for board positions often incur outside costs. With pay gaps and lack of childcare support, professional women cannot afford or commit to these opportunities. As Black women continue to make 63 cents for every dollar white men earn, they are being squeezed out of leadership roles that they are equally, if not more, qualified for.

Black women are raising awareness of the factors that limit their career potential while honoring those paving the way for their seat at the table. In the meantime, addressing and further dismantling these obstacles are crucial for Black women to land spots on corporate boards.

RELATED CONTENT: Want More BIPOC Women On Corporate Boards? Start In Middle School