McKinsey Quarterly

The Black experience at work in charts

To solve a problem, you need to understand it. That’s why McKinsey recently embarked on an extensive research effort to characterize Black Americans’ experience in the US workplace. We analyzed data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US Census Bureau, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and other sources. We augmented that analysis with data from 24 companies representing 3.7 million US employees, learning about the employee experience of those people through interviews, focus groups, and surveys.

The scale of the issues facing Black US workers is massive, and the roots of the problem are deep. As a recent article explained, “Inequality is baked deep into our current capitalist society.”1 Many researchers see the challenges as rooted in the socioeconomic and racial history of the United States.

We believe that companies that hope to make meaningful progress face ten key challenges. Achieving equity for Black workers in the private sector requires addressing the challenges on many fronts, including geography, industry, job type, and everyday workplace and culture challenges. Given the scale and complexity of the challenges, companies will need to work together to see material changes. And they will have to act more boldly than they have done in the past.

The impact of greater access to opportunity and advancement would be far reaching for the 15 million Black US workers currently engaged in the private sector. The challenges and the opportunities we outline are developed in greater detail in the full report of our research, Race in the workplace: The Black experience in the US private sector. Our hope is that companies and other stakeholders will use our work as the basis for the development of initiatives to accelerate progress toward a more diverse labor force and an inclusive and equitable private-sector experience for Black workers—and all workers.

Companies and other stakeholders will need to address ten key challenges to create opportunities.

Note: This story covers 8 of these 10 challenges. “One move companies can take to improve diversity” covers point 2 and point 3.

Black workers have higher unemployment, lower wages, and worse prospects than other workers

Black workers in the US are underemployed compared with other workers.
Even within the industries with many Black workers, Black workers make less than $30,000 more often than their peers do.
Black workers are overrepresented in low-wage occupations and underrepresented in high-wage occupations.

The pipeline at work is broken, resulting in paltry representation at the most senior ranks

Black employees in participating companies are overrepresented in frontline jobs and underrepresented in management.
There are four Black CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. At parity with the Black US population, the number would be no fewer than 60.

Not surprisingly, Black workers describe a significant trust deficit at work

Black employees see less fairness and fewer chances to succeed.
Many Black workers lack managerial sponsorship and allyship.

Despite all this, Black employees find meaning, purpose, and accomplishment at work

Regardless of support, Black employees still find meaning in their work.
Companies that redouble their efforts along five lines can make a difference.
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