When we talk about the fight for equal opportunities for women, it seems that the “This is it! We made it!” moment always slips through our fingers.
No matter how much we achieve, we discover more layers of rusty structures that have been anchoring us since the day we were born.
This time it was the national educational organization Girls Leadership that discovered, through its Ready To Lead study, how girls of color had lost out in the leadership race, even before they started.
The nonprofit organization founded in 2009 announced the findings in partnership with its lead sponsor, Morgan Stanley, and after surveying more than 2,000 girls of color and families, and over 200 teachers nationally.
The key finding is surprising: Black and Latinx girls identified the external factors of racial and gender bias as the primary barriers to leadership.
“One of our key findings is that Black and Latinx girls are our most skilled and most ambitious leaders,” the organization said. “When many — usually White — people see the data, their reaction is some version of, ‘So Black and Latinx girls are doing fine! To answer that, one needs to look at the top leadership of Fortune 500 companies, tech firms, financial institutions, media corporations, sports entities, the education, and nonprofit sectors, or any sector, and you will quickly see that there is nothing fine about the leadership of Latinx and Black women and girls.”
“The challenge is different,” they added. “Internally, Black and Latinx girls have significantly higher levels of confidence and leadership skills, but externally they face bias, discrimination, and, in the school environment, punishment and push out.”
According to the report, women of color represent a smaller percentage of women in leadership roles and are underrepresented in virtually all sectors.
But to assess the situation of girls of color and the obstacles they face in their daily lives, the study started with a series of questions about their perceptions, attitudes, and aspirations in leadership, as well as the influence of environmental and external factors such as ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic background, and community influence on girls’ attitudes.
The results showed that Black and Latina women’s inclination to start their own business or become entrepreneurs, for example, has a direct link to Black and Latinx girls’ scores on the Roets Rating Scale for Leadership during the study.
Similarly, Black and Latinx girls were more likely than girls of other races/ethnicities to consider leadership skills as critical for meeting their goals in life, and their main motivation for being a leader is “helping other people.
“Black and Latinx girls expressed that they aspire to be the type of leader who enacts leadership through moral authority, team-building, the support of others, and social change values,” the report explains.
Where’s the obstacle?
According to the study group results, while Black and Latinx girls are less likely than girls of other races/ethnicities (Asian, multiethnic, and white) to cite lack of confidence or fear of failure as a deterrent to leadership aspirations, their obstacles are more complex.
The most important internal barrier cited by the Latinx girls, for example, was the fear of negative outcomes when presented with the opportunity to lead.
“For example, nearly one in three Latinx girls and nearly one in four Black girls fear being embarrassed or ridiculed as a result of taking on a leadership role,” the study explains.
Another factor that emerged as an obstacle for girls of color in their path to leadership was the fear of social repercussions when exposed to peer scrutiny or criticism. In addition, Black and Latinx students report experiencing more severe disciplinary actions by teachers.
“Black and Latinx girls’ fears of social repercussions, being misunderstood, or being seen in a negative light are not unfounded,” the report explains.
“Black and Latinx girls have the power to lead and be influential decision-makers in our society,” they conclude. “Schools, girls-centered organizations, and policymakers have the ability to push back against and dismantle the internal and external barriers that prevent Black and Latinx girls from fully activating their potential.”