Black Women in Leadership: It’s Not as Easy as You Think

by Xara Aziz

A riveting new report is shining a light on what it’s really like to be a Black woman in leadership.

For Kyra Kyles, the unsurmountable amount of pressure she faced was almost too unbearable to stomach.

“They didn’t expect us to miss a step even though there was a clear staff interruption,” she told CNN about a former communications role she landed earlier in her career. “In that moment I felt more nervous because I thought that as a Black woman if I’m not able to knock this out of the park I don’t want it to be a situation where they don’t give another woman of color a chance.”

Kyles is just one of many women who say they face the same burdens at work. Experts say many Black women are often promoted or encouraged to fill senior-level roles during times of crisis because the task to turn things around can be almost impossible. The expectation to make everything right, researchers believe, can lead to burnout or failure. It’s a new occurrence in the workplace coined the “glass cliff.”

“It’s essentially the opposite of the “glass ceiling”– the term that describes the barriers minorities face to advance in the workplace,” the report reads. “Research shows that women and people of color are more likely to be appointed to poorly performing companies than White males.”

Swaths of Black women came to meet the “glass cliff” during the onset of the 2020 pandemic when companies began to institute diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives in the wake of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s deaths.

Two of these women were Dana Canedy (the first Black woman to head Simon & Schuster) and Simone Oliver, who was tapped as Refinery29’s global editor-in-chief.

Both Canedy and Oliver have since resigned. Oliver now works as an SVP at BET.

In November, Shine My Crown reported that the popular MSNBC show The Cross Connection was being canceled after two years on the air. The show’s host was Tiffany Cross, a Black woman.

“Fresh off the heels of a ‘racial reckoning,’ as so many have called it, we see that with progress, there is always backlash,” Cross wrote in a statement after her show was canceled. “Now is not the time to retreat to politics or business as usual. It is my hope that the last two years at MSNBC have been disruptive and transformative, changing how politics are discussed and making policy more digestible.”

Rachel Thomas, CEO of Lean In says while there is progress in diversifying staffs at companies and corporations throughout the country, gender and racial bias at these institutions still exist.

“As a result, women of color are taking on demanding roles – many of them in newly created DEI roles – without the budget, resources or support from senior leadership to be successful,” she said.

She continued: “It’s driving burnout and leaving women feeling frustrated. They are being asking to do more and they are stepping up to do more and they are not fully being supported to do that work and that work is often going unrecognized and unrewarded.”

Kyles thinks to fix this, organizations must help set Black women up for success by providing them with the necessary tools and resources to thrive.

“I think when people are applauding themselves for giving Black women these leadership roles that they deserve and almost never get, I think they are forgetting the part where you give them the resources, you give them the tools and you give them the support that they need to succeed,” she concluded. “Because that’s just not something that we receive.”

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