The year 2021 has been historic for Black women in US government, from Kamala Harris becoming vice president to the record numbers of African American women in mayor’s offices and Congress. While it is important to celebrate the increasing representation, there are significant barriers that Black women face when pursuing executive positions in the federal government, and they are unlikely to get lifted quickly and easily. The makeup of the Senior Executive Service has never been able of mirroring the racial diversity of the nation nor did it account for the need for female gender representation within the position (Kriebel, 2020). The administration’s hostility toward inclusion and diversity in the federal workforce may lead to further reduction of SES representativeness, which is an issue to be rectified as soon as possible. While scholars often assume that it is social and economic equality that can facilitate representativeness within political powers, the reverse can be true: the political equality of Black women may be needed for reaching equality in other domains of life.
Reasons for SES Shortages
Senior Executive Service (SES) lead the workforce of the United States and was establish to guarantee the responsiveness of the government to the needs and goals of the nation. The members of the SES are set to possess strong executive skills and share a broad perspective on public service commitment (McDonald, Conant, & Marshall, 2020). However, the SES corps have faced some challenges, such as issue getting skilled and dedicated professionals joining the field, which has led to shortages (Hale, 2017). In the absence of a diverse makeup of the SES, the administration is incapable of representing the American workforce and thus is ineffective in addressing its needs. Therefore, an improvement in hiring practices, such as the increased attention to gender and racial diversity, is needed within the SES sphere as solution to staffing challenges and the potential to give Black women a chance to contribute.
African American Women’s Experience in the Workforce
Racism and sexism have been cited as prominent reasons why African American women fail in pursuing their professional aspirations. The position of Black women within the labor market has been historically unfavorable, with the negative representations of Black womanhood reinforcing the discriminatory practices and viewpoints (Kramer, 2020). Since the dawn of slavery, the dominant view was that African American women must be manual workers contributed to their devaluation as valuable assets to the governmental workforce (Banks, 2019). Historically, the mainly participation of Black women was in low-wage agriculture and domestic service (Flynn, 2019). This is revealing of the fact that women of color have been employed as low-wage workers involved primarily in cooking, cleaning, and caregiving, which contributed to their overrepresentation in such industries and the inability to break from the stereotype. Importantly, around a third of African American women are employed in service occupations compared to only a fifth of white women (Banks, 2019). The consistently discriminatory governmental and employer policies aimed at Black women, the population faced significant barriers when it comes to pursuing higher-ranked business and government positions.
The Impact of Connections: The Good Ole Boys Club
While breaking free of the sexist stereotype that African American women are only fit for manual work is complicated on its own, the ‘good ole boys club’ also prevents the population from pursuing high SES positions. The system of favoritism in which only friendships and connections matter is dominated by males, and has existed throughout the US history (Hotho et al., 2020). Such a system is rather informal and is prevalent within political and corporate settings, which means that African American women have lower chances of advancing to roles in government due to their lack of connections (Roberts et al., 2018). Despite the fact that the membership in the ‘good ole boys club’ has expanded through time and came to include diverse groups, most women, especially women of color, are excluded from the benefits offered by the ‘club’ (Sanbonmatsu, 2020). Therefore, women of color did not only confront policy barriers but also limitations associated with men’s wider access to and accumulation of opportunities within various realms of life.
The Glass Ceiling and Black Feminist Theory
Racially-polarized voting, stereotypes, and gatekeeper skepticism have lowered the opportunities available to Black women, which is indicative of the persistent presence of glass ceilings, which are important metaphors in Black feminist discourse (University of Chicago Booth School of Business, 2018). The glass ceiling represents the visible imbalance of power and the opportunities between the upper-level workforce as compared to the large majority of marginalized populations (Lantz-Deaton, Tabassum, & McIntosh, 2018). Black feminist theory suggests that shattering the glass ceiling is only possible through systematic efforts and the transformation of the system as a whole, eliminating the persistent powers granted to the few, mainly white, men (Savage, 2019).
Black feminists have recently began referring to a concrete ceiling when speaking of women of color to represent the significance of the barriers that they face in the workforce, education, and daily life (Babers, 2016). While glass can be shattered and is transparent so one can see what is above, concrete is impossible to break through by oneself nor is it see through (Carpenter, 2018). A concrete ceiling represents the absence of a visible destination, and it seems that there is no way to escape. This hopelessness is something that Black women face in the workforce – an impenetrable barrier without a vision on how to get to the next level and progress professionally in their chosen fields.
Institutional and social challenges and obstacles rooted in social inequality have consistently limited Black women’s access to SES positions. It is imperative to discuss the concerns regarding African American women’s lack of representation and unified efforts to encourage SES diversity to disrupt the status quo. The findings strongly suggest that there is urgent need for action for addressing the racial and gender gap in the Senior Executive Service. Creating a racially and gender diverse administration will not only lead to a more representative senior civil service but also a better government. It is expected to enhance performance when it comes to addressing pressing socioeconomic challenges that Black women in the workforce face. The fact that African American cannot achieve many SES positions within the federal government is linked to persistent gender bias throughout their educational and professional careers, the pre-existing socioeconomic disadvantages, health equity issues, as well as the overall inequality of opportunities. To ensure that the Black female workforce achieves success in the United States and contributes with their experiences and diverse knowledge, it is imperative to facilitate a gender and racially inclusive SES system.
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