In 2010, after I was freelancing out of a brownstone in Harlem, I wrote an article titled “Where is the Black Liz Lemon?” that touched on the dearth of complicated Black feminine characters in media. A number of days after I posted the piece, I bought a observe from a lady named Issa, thanking me and saying the article was the inspiration she wanted to begin a undertaking she had been laying aside. A number of months later, she despatched me a hyperlink to Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, the YouTube sequence that might be the launchpad for HBO’s Insecure.
What Issa Rae introduced into our dwelling rooms with Insecure was a decade-defining story centered round Black women. The show’s diverse audience spent 5 seasons inviting Issa and Molly—totally stunning, imperfect, in-progress Black women—into their lives. It was a narrative about what they felt, how they grew, and the way they beloved—narratives that just some years in the past have been nonetheless uncommon to see on tv.
Within the decade since, I’ve constructed a profession in company, working at among the most recognizable firms on the earth, and I dwell a couple of blocks away from the brownstone the place I wrote the piece that sparked Insecure. Watching the finale, I felt so happy with Issa Rae and so grateful for these tales and the influence they’ve had on thousands and thousands of viewers. Nonetheless, reflecting on the place we’re, I’m wondering if we’re extra comfy with fully-realized Black women on display than within the office.
Whereas Insecure centered on Black women, it’s essential to understand that most media depicting Black women doesn’t present them as multifaceted characters at all. Final 12 months, only one out of five Black women who appeared on network or streaming programs even had speaking roles. And as uncommon as it’s to listen to the voices of Black women on our screens, for most individuals it’s nonetheless a extra frequent prevalence than truly working alongside one in our on a regular basis lives. In reality, most individuals won’t ever work up shut with a Black feminine chief until they occur to be within the room with the 1.7% of us who hold senior roles.
Over the previous 10 years, I’ve climbed the ranks at a number of Fortune 500 firms from finance to tech. Of the businesses that publicly disclosed their worker illustration numbers, none had greater than 3% of Black women of their workforce. Whenever you hit the management stage, that quantity drops even decrease. At that time, it’s often a decimal that by no means adequately conveys how alone it could actually really feel. In my function at Google, for instance, I used to be the primary Black lady to guide our group, the one Black lady on our division management group, and often the one Black lady within the room. After I would level that out to my non-Black friends, many would reply as if it have been an accolade. After I would say it to different Black feminine leaders, they might reply understanding the price of all of it.
This 12 months, as we head into the following chapter of the good reshuffling, firms will launch up to date worker numbers and can be confronted with stark tendencies within the attrition—particularly of Black women—from their ranks. A few of them will look to deal with the information as a reputational downside, however good organizations will acknowledge it for what it’s: a proximity downside.
When firms see Black women as solely symbols or knowledge factors and never of their humanity, it’s more durable to supply the sort of surroundings that might assist them displaying up totally as leaders. When firms don’t perceive the roles that Black women play as non-traditional caretakers, they’re much less prone to join the necessity for inclusive go away insurance policies that assist them and others. When firms ignore the ways in which the wage hole impacts Black women all through their careers, they don’t take on the institutional remediation wanted to deal with pay inequities for them and others.
Organizations that can cleared the path ahead can be ones that get that making the office extra equitable for Black women permits the office to be extra equitable for everybody. And if there’s one factor the Insecure decade has made clear, it’s that when Black women are supported to create and lead, they construct worlds and areas we couldn’t think about dwelling with out.
Leslie Pitterson is a communications and public affairs government with expertise in media, finance, and tech. She is head of Communications for Enterprise Growth, Technique & Ventures at Microsoft.