Intersectionality refers to the complex manner in which different forms of social identity (such as gender, race, class, sexuality, etc.), compound bias. For women of color, the challenge of intersectionality is exacerbated by their absence in diversity and inclusion studies and objectives. The late poet Audre Lorde poignantly described this dilemma for black women: "We are rarely recognized as a group separate and distinct from black men, or as a present part of the larger group 'women.'"
Both the Knight Foundation and Stanford University studies uncovered systemic biases in the investment industry. But the Knight Foundation subsumed women of color firms into either diverse or women-led firms. In order to isolate the impact of race, Stanford University's study explicitly excluded women-led firms. More recently, a major financial publication evaluated the myriad ways in which women are deterred from ascending to chief executive officer by profiling the experience of various C-suite women. But these profiles included no women of color. Yet, the few studies that separately evaluate women of color suggest greater barriers to opportunity than either white women or men of color. McKinsey's September 2018 study found that as their careers advanced, all women in the investment industry lose ground to their male peers. However, women of color are promoted at lower rates than both men of all races, and white women. Although they represent 20% of employees at entry level positions, women of color virtually disappear from representation at higher levels. As a percentage of C-suite positions, they represented 1% vs. 8% for men of color, 17% for white women and 73% for white men. As of this writing, there is only one woman of color CEOs leading a Fortune 500 company vs. three African American males and 33 white females.
While women of color entrepreneurs are primary drivers behind the much higher new firm formation by women founders relative to men over the last decade, businesses with women of color CEOs get less than 1% of all venture capital funding every year.
Given the clear disparity of opportunity for women of color, I urge academics to conduct research and allocators to track employment and contract activity in ways that do not always subsume women of color into either "minority" or "women" classifications.
Tina Byles Williams is the CEO and CIO of FIS Group Inc., Philadelphia. This content represents the views of the author. It was submitted and edited under Pensions & Investments guidelines, but is not a product of P&I's editorial team.