Black excellence is nothing new. Black people have made great strides to take positions of power throughout history, and Black women in particular have made considerable progress in fighting injustice and gracefully navigating a patriarchal and misogynistic world to leave an indelible mark. As we observe Black History month and salute the extraordinary Black women who have etched their names into the annals of history so too must we observe the tipping of the scales in an imbalance that has seen the COVID-19 pandemic impacting more Black women globally than their counterparts.
In January, the world witnessed Kamala Harris make modern history as the first woman, first Black person, and first person of South Asian descent to become the Vice President of the United States. Before her, there were countless other Black women who stood their ground, protested, insisted, resisted, marched, and played a part in shifting history, step by step, to get to this groundbreaking era.
Women are facing the brunt of the pandemic globally
Yet, as the pandemic continues to upend any sense of normalcy across the globe, women in particular have been facing increased pressure as they manage roles as career and business leaders, caregivers, and nurturers. Women face the brunt of the socio-economic fallout, as the burden of unpaid care is disproportionately carried by them. Add to that the decline in women’s employment, stressors in the home, and the negative implications on mental health and the magnitude of the inequality becomes crystal clear.
Now, almost a year into the pandemic, several reports have detailed the negative impact of the pandemic on women. Last year, the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, surveyed 340 entrepreneurs and founders to find out the pandemic’s impact and the economic shutdown on business, home life, and mental health. The survey focused on underrepresented groups which were defined as “those outside the main entrepreneurship narrative (white, cis-male, Canadian-born), face unique challenges and barriers in business, access to capital, and marginalization, which leaves them more vulnerable in times of crisis.”
According to the report, “Women are disproportionately affected by this crisis because they face barriers in business under normal circumstances. They lack access to capital, the sectors where their businesses are concentrated receive bias, and they take on more domestic responsibilities.” The report added, “At the same time, emergency financial supports put in place are less likely to benefit women business owners since their businesses are smaller and tend to employ contractors as opposed to employees.”
Some studies have taken a more granular approach, detailing the effects on women of colour in leadership roles as they double as caregivers. Black women in particular continue to face intense disadvantages in comparison to their counterparts as they climb the corporate ladder and as they lead business across various industries.
Even before the pandemic, more often than not, Black women are faced with issues that they carry proudly on their own, including imposter syndrome, lack of career advancement, abusive relationships that hamper their full expressive lives, and painful and traumatic issues that are detrimental to mental health.
Black Women are disproportionately affected by the pandemic
A 2020 report from McKinsey & Company on Women in the Workplace which is based on research from 317 companies across the United States and Canada, states that “Black women already face more barriers to advancement than most other employees. Today they’re also coping with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community. And the emotional toll of repeated instances of racial violence falls heavily on them.”
In the report, there are several points to highlight Black women being disproportionately affected by the pandemic. “Black women are almost twice as likely as women overall to say that they can’t bring their whole selves to work and more than 1.5 times as likely to say they don’t have strong allies,” reads the report. Since the start of COVID-19, Black women are more likely than other employees to think about leaving the workforce because of concerns over their health and safety. Meanwhile, 52% of Black women report being the “only” of their gender and race at work. They are less likely to feel supported at work during COVID-19, they face more day-to-day bias, and experience a wider range of microaggressions at work.
Black moms featured high as disadvantaged women alongside Latina moms who are shouldering more burden than white counterparts. Among the issues highlighted are: Black mothers are twice as likely to be handling all childcare and housework for their families.
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Representation Matters; Diversity is good for business
As we look to International Women’s Day which is being celebrated under the theme #ChooseToChallenge perhaps it is time to think of how we can challenge and call out gender bias and equality. How can we refuse to be ignorant of the state of Black women? How can we embrace diversity and inclusion?
In 2015, McKinsey announced that it had been examining diversity in the workplace for several years, and their latest report, Diversity Matters, examined proprietary data sets for 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In this research, they looked at metrics including financial results and the composition of top management and boards and their findings showed that, “Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians” and “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians,”
In other words, representation matters and diversity is good for business. In October, CBC News reported that The Liberal government plans to bring in more than 1.2 million immigrants over the next three years, despite hurdles created by the global pandemic. How can you support Black women, Black-owned businesses and organisations that support diversity and inclusion going forward?
Here are some organizations and resources to get started:
- Across Boundaries
- Black Business and Professional Association
- Black Legal Action Centre
- Black Women in Motion
- Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce
- Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion
- Federation Of Black Canadians
- Freedom School Toronto
- The Most Nurtured
- The New Humanity Initiative
- Check out the Black Toronto Business Directory, a free initiative to help support the city’s Black-owned businesses
- See Oprah’s curated list of 44 of the Best Books by Black Authors You Should Read in Your Lifetime
- The Incredible Black Canadian Women You Should Know
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Kimesha Walters is the CEO of Oasis Integrated Communications, a PR firm with operations in Canada and Jamaica, and a focus on helping businesses to find their paradise. She’s a seasoned PR professional with a passion for crafting meaningful stories that connect with people. An eternal optimist who thrives on perfecting solutions that marry creative brand experience with consumer engagement, she believes in tapping into the core values of a company and tailoring strategies that share their narrative and find affinity. Her experience spans public relations, corporate communications, marketing, social media and advertising across a range of industries. She has executed projects in Toronto, New York, and Jamaica where she has deftly managed some of the foremost brands across North America and the Caribbean.
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