What Black professionals need most to succeed at work


Black History Month (BHM) is a time to recognize the trailblazing contributions the Black community has made in the U.S. It’s also a necessary time to reflect on our history, progress made, and the important steps we must take to help create a more equitable society.

We’re at a juncture in history where we must focus on understanding one another, learning about our differences, and embracing our common ground. The past year’s events, including the racial justice movement and ongoing pandemic, have upended communities of color and halted so much progress.

As business leaders, it’s our responsibility to be inclusive by providing support, empowering talent, and ensuring all professionals, especially those from underrepresented communities, have access to resources and tools that enable career advancement.

In January at LinkedIn, we surveyed over 2,000 Black professionals ages 18-69 to uncover challenges faced in the workplace. This is what we learned about their experiences at work.

Black professionals and the “Glass Ceiling”

According to a new study coauthored by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, racial and gender disparities have resulted in growing losses to the U.S. economy that amounted to over $2.6 trillion in 2019. It’s also daunting that Black professionals hold just 0.8% of Fortune 500 CEO positions and only 3.2% of senior leadership positions at large companies despite making up over 12% of the U.S. population. With this research in mind, we analyzed the inequities that continue to exist in our workplaces according to LinkedIn’s survey.

  • 40% of Black professionals ages 18-34 say the biggest obstacle in their career is not having a clear path or opportunity for advancement at their organization.
  • 44% of Black professionals ages 18-34 feel they’ve been overlooked or intentionally passed by for career advancement opportunities because of their race.
  • Nearly half (46%) of Black professionals ages 18-34 have faced blatant discrimination and/or microaggressions at work.
  • Nearly half (45%) of all Black professionals surveyed say they’re thinking of leaving their workplace due to an absence of promotional advancement opportunities and lack of recognition of their work (32%).

As leaders on this journey, these obstacles may not be apparent or simple to grasp. You may have worked with BIPOC colleagues your entire career, never once thinking that their experience in the workplace differed from your own. It’s valuable for us to practice self-awareness, intentionally distinguishing the experience of others to foster trust and inspire belonging in the workplace.

When microaggressions or acts of bias occur at work, as in society, demonstrating compassion and allyship by checking in and effectively advocating for a team member is an important signal of your inclusive leadership and ally capability.

Organizations can create environments where inequities, microaggressions, and bias cannot survive. More companies are demonstrating actions consistent with their pledges to create equitable workplaces. For example, Netflix is working to build an inclusive culture by practicing clearly outlined strategies for openly talking about race in the workplace, hiring more inclusively, creating access for emerging talent, and building diverse networks via the company’s first-ever inclusion report.

Mentorship and support from leadership

According to research done by LeanIn, Black women are much less likely than their non-Black colleagues to interact with senior leaders at work. This lack of access mirrors a lack of sponsorship: less than a quarter of Black women feel they have the support they need to advance their careers. It also means Black women are less likely to be included in important conversations about company priorities and strategy, and they have fewer opportunities to get noticed by people in leadership.

By creating strong mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, companies can help strengthen bonds within the organization’s leadership, foster more growth, and retain employees. Making this a formal, structured process helps employees see that their growth and advancement are prioritized and puts structures in place to impact.

Here’s just how significant mentorship and career coaching opportunities are for Black professionals:

  • 40% of Black professionals believe mentorship/career coaching opportunities will help lead to a more equitable workplace culture, yet many professionals don’t currently have access to these programs.
  • Black professionals who don’t currently have mentors cited a lack of trust in people in their organization (49%) and being uncomfortable asking for help (39%) as key barriers.

Early in my career, I “accidentally” found a nurturing community of peers and mentors with whom I could relate to and trust. They encouraged me and challenged me in ways that inspired self-confidence in my potential to professionally advance. Often being “one of the only” through the course of my career, I remind myself how far I’ve come, and practice being that leader, sponsor, mentor for others who see me as a reflection of what’s possible for their future.

The insights from this survey remind me of some of the obstacles I’ve faced—many of us have faced—along my career journey. Applying these insights, with the intent to create a different outcome, will help other businesses think critically about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Ultimately, we should all understand and do what we must to drive effective change. The challenges of 2020 have ignited a focus and urgency around the work of equity that will permanently affect how businesses around the world operate, shining a light on the potential to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.

In October, we announced our commitment to double the number of Black and Latinx leaders, managers, and senior individual contributors on our U.S. team over the next five years. Since then, hundreds of our people managers have gone through our global Leading with Inclusion program. With the success of our initial roll-out, we’re building capacity to scale our global manager inclusion program even more quickly in the coming months. Our hiring efforts, guided by our diverse slates practice, are paying off where we see a material increase in the percentage of Black and Latinx hires at all levels, especially in management and leadership.

At LinkedIn, our vision is to create economic opportunities for every member of the global workforce, and we have a responsibility to intentionally address equity and inclusion both within our workforce and for our millions of members and customers. We hope these research insights and recommendations are helping to spark the necessary conversations for change during this time.

Rosanna Durruthy is LinkedIn’s vice president of Global Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging.


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