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Linkage Research Decodes Intersectionality, Proving Its Impact on the Advancement of Women

February 3, 2020 Jennifer McCollum
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The demographics of the American workforce are changing. For the first time in nearly a decade, women hold more jobs in the US than men, a development that reflects the future of the American workforce. That’s a trend we’ve followed closely at Linkage, given our mission to change the face of leadership by partnering with leading organizations to accelerate the advancement of women at all levels.

Here’s what disturbs us: Even though women are entering the workforce at greater rates to men, women still lag significantly when it comes to ascending to higher levels of leadership. It’s at the point of promotion from manager to more senior levels where we begin to see the decline, and even organizations committed to the important goal of gender parity in their leadership ranks are not making progress fast enough.

Our Linkage research team has discovered a critical insight that may be contributing to this trend: Race and ethnicity have a substantial effect on how women leaders assess themselves and how other leaders assess them, surfacing real differences—as well as evidence of bias—that organizations must consider when developing their women leaders.

Intersectionality in the Workplace and the Advancement of Women Leaders,” a groundbreaking new white paper from Linkage, includes new research into the role intersectionality plays in the advancement of women leaders and outlines key recommendations for integrating intersectionality data into leadership development efforts.

Here’s what we found after reviewing thousands of 360° assessments of high-performing women leaders at global organizations: For women in different racial and ethnic groups, things like cultural expectations, life experiences, and a complex combination of different forms of discrimination—including racism and sexism—overlap in ways that profoundly affect their ability to professionally advance.

A few examples of important behaviors and biases uncovered by this research include:

  • African American/Black women and Asian American/Asian women are less likely to volunteer to work on high-profile projects than white women. With this insight, how can organizations proactively engage these groups and ensure they have access to the same critical experiences and exposure necessary for career advancement?
  • Latina and multiracial women unfairly received overall assessment scores that were significantly lower than those of women in other groups. With this awareness, how can organizations begin to successfully challenge biases in hiring, evaluation and promotion practices?

When working toward advancing women, looking at the needs of women as one homogeneous group can create bias and further disadvantage.

In order to build leadership development initiatives that effectively meet the needs of all leaders, organizations must:

  1. Purposefully collect data designed to identify the potential differences in advancement behaviors between women in different racial and ethnic groups
  2. Understand and mitigate biases at play in assessments of women leaders in different racial and ethnic groups
  3. Incorporate targeted leadership development opportunities for subgroups based on Linkage’s intersectionality research
  4. Implement focused leadership development efforts that strengthen the inclusion competency in all leaders

These recommendations and more can be found in Linkage’s latest white paper: “Intersectionality in the Workplace and the Advancement of Women Leaders.”

As leaders, I believe we are here to contribute to more than just our economy—and we can do that by using our capability to change our organizations in ways that matter. We must be hyper-aware of intersectionality as we work to not only create gender equity, but to advance women of all backgrounds. We have a responsibility to bring diverse voices and perspectives to the table, and we can only do that when we understand the unique experiences of every member of our teams. By reframing and strengthening how diversity and inclusion work in our individual organizations, we can contribute to both the economy and the world. That’s leadership!

I’m encouraged by our latest insight that helps guide the way forward.

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