Survey Analyzes Women of Color in Business Across Four Generations

Inspirational Women 2022

Harvard Business School alumnae and co-authors Bonita C. Stewart and Jacqueline Adams published the results of a cross-generational survey earlier this year.

Titled Untapped Women of Color: The Talent Force Multiplier, the third of five planned annual surveys to be published, is unique in its analysis of the opinions and capabilities of women desk workers and students across four generations. The work also highlights new, evolving skills and attitudes that managers must develop to assess and motivate talent across cultures as well as generations in the complex post-COVID workplace.

For the first time, the latest edition of the U.S. Women of Color in Business: Cross-Generational Survey series compared and contrasted the experiences of 300 White and Black male managers with those of 4,000 women managers and desk workers across four races (Black, LatinX, Asian American and White) and four generations (Gen Z students , Millennials , Gen X , and Boomers ). The results underscore the need for a more nuanced appreciation of “generational diversity,” an original concept coined by Stewart and Adams.

In addition to including Black and White male managers, this year’s survey takes a deeper look at Asian American women desk workers with differentiating responses by the women’s countries of origin: China, Vietnam, India and the Philippines.

Insights from the New Research
Despite promises of progress, despite disruptions to corporate recruiting, the co-authors’ chief performance metric - the Onlys - remains stalled, with almost half of Black and LatinX women continuing to report being frequently or always the only person of their races in professional settings. More distressing is that the number of Black and LatinX millennial Onlys has spiked: 55% for Black and 45% for LatinX.

The 2021 results show clear differentiations among Black and LatinX millennial women, especially when it comes to confidence about the future, ways of coping with workplace stresses and even teaming up within the “sisterhood.”

This was a breakaway year for innovation among millennials, what this survey calls “First to Know About Technology.” Forty-four percent of Black millennial women desk workers said they are always the first to know; 42% for LatinX, 33% for Asian Americans and 38% for White millennials. Black and LatinX women reported that they are actively participating in the current start-up boom. Thirty-two percent of Black millennial women said they founded or co-founded the company they work at, more than double from 14% in 2020. Just as they reported in 2020, Black women across all generations are more likely to be “side-preneurs” - to have a business they are working on outside of their desk jobs. Twenty-seven percent said they are side-entrepreneurs, as opposed to 16% LatinX, 11% Asian American, and 12% White women.

Millennial women are acknowledging systemic racism in the U.S. and are not shy about using their power to address it.

In 2021, Asian American women fell behind other racial groups, across all generations, in terms of career satisfaction. Only 30% of Asian American women (down from 39% in 2020) agreed to a great deal that they’ve had the opportunity to do meaningful and satisfying work, compared to 42% of White women, 47% of LatinX women and 51% of Black women. Chinese American respondents, in particular, reported the lowest career satisfaction, while Indian American, Filipina American and Vietnamese American women were comparatively more satisfied. Only 17% of Chinese American women feel greatly fulfilled at work, compared to 33% of Filipina American women, 32% of Indian American women and 31% of Vietnamese American women.

In the good news category, there was a marked increase in “stretch assignment parity.” Male and women managers of all races reported strikingly similar opportunities in the last 12 months for “challenging work assignments that pushed you out of your comfort zone.”

The co-authors’ first survey, in 2019, informed the recommendations in their book, A BLESSING: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive.