Bloomberg's Erika Irish Brown: Asking Ourselves How to Develop Women of Color in the Workplace

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Bloomberg's Erika Irish Brown: Asking Ourselves How to Develop Women of Color in the Workplace

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Asking Ourselves How to Develop Women of Color in the Workplace @bloomberg #diversity #inclusion #women
Thursday, July 16, 2015 - 9:40am

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Originally posted on LinkedIn.

At the end of June, Bloomberg had the privilege of hosting the Council of Urban Professionals’ first Chief Diversity Officer Roundtable. I think all would agree it was a great success, but like so many forums that address issues of critical importance there was so much ground to cover and so little time. 

Bloomberg Chairman Peter Grauer opened the evening by stressing the business imperative for diversity in the workplace and acknowledging the importance of the work ahead of us. I share this not to “toot the company horn,” but rather to emphasize that without support for diversity and inclusion at the board and management committee level, progressive diversity agendas are bound to fail. Let’s face it: it’s hard enough to move the needle with support.

Many of the Chief Diversity Officers in the room had wrestled with the issue of support at some point in their careers. We found ourselves asking: Do I have a champion for diversity at the executive level? And not just in name only: do they champion diversity beyond white women? Do they hold business leaders accountable?

Dr. Ella Bell, a professor of business administration at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, moderated the panel. She discussed her work as the founder of ASCENT, a national organization committed to the professional development of multicultural women, and noted that the topic of multicultural women in the workplace, and how we slip through the cracks, is not new. She encouraged us to ask: Does your company invest in any external women’s leadership programs? And do they send a diverse group of women to these programs?

Panelist Ripa Rashid, an SVP at the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) highlighted the lack of sponsorship, having an advocate that will take a bet on you, as a major obstacle for women of color and cited a study revealing that only 8% of people of color have a sponsor, compared to 13% of Caucasians.

Dr. Bell challenged each business leader in the room to reach out to a woman of color at their company to establish a relationship and develop an understanding of what her experience has been like. What would our companies learn and accomplish if we presented every business leader with Dr. Bell’s challenge? Does your company have formal mentor and sponsor programs? If you are a senior leader, have you mentored or sponsored a woman of color? 

Robert Bard, CEO and President of Latina Style, spoke about women’s aversion to risk versus men’s willingness to tackle challenges. We have all heard anecdotes that, unlike women, men will apply for jobs with only 60% of the required qualifications. Another recent study found that job postings for "assertive," "independent" and "aggressive" candidates deterred many women from applying. Instead, they sought out jobs seeking "dedicated" or "conscientious" candidates. Bard's points raised the questions: Do women of color at your company work hard or work smart? Are they asking for development or taking risks? Do managers at your company know and support the women of color on their teams’ career goals?   

On the topic of manager accountability, leadership consultant Jane Hyun noted that we hire diversity and then expect everyone to act the same! So how do we teach mangers to create an inclusive environment? And how do we encourage managers to give employees the freedom to act and think differently and to be motivated by different things? How do we embed systems that reward inclusive behaviors? Hyun highlighted personal accountability for women of color, emphasizing the need to share their cultural values, demonstrate the value they add to the organization, tell their colleagues what they need and then take the reins themselves.

 As Peter Grauer acknowledged in his opening remarks, ours is a "race with no end." I hope the discussions and insights generated at the roundtable will prove valuable to those who attended and hope the questions we raised will challenge all of us to consider the best way to develop women of color in the workplace.

For more on the Council for Urban Professionals, please visit:

For more information on Diversity & Inclusion at Bloomberg, please visit:

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CAMPAIGN: Bloomberg's Philanthropy & Citizenship