Approximately one third of ALL women of color are planning on leaving their jobs by next year. That’s according to a recent survey by career company Fairygodboss and nFormation, a community for and by professional women of color. More than anything else, the women surveyed cited feelings of burnout as their main reason for leaving.
As the saying goes, a woman’s work is never done, and in 2020 our workloads became back-breaking. Many women faced additional family duties such as homeschooling kids, or taking care of aging parents in addition to having to shoulder most household responsibilities and increased demands at work.
“When you add all of these factors on top of the racial, gender and class-based trauma caused by the events of the past year and the ways that those events directly impact the hearts, minds and psyches of women of color, it can be easy to understand why all of us just need a break,” says Rha Goddess, co-founder of nFormation. “We have to remember that women of color are navigating the challenges of often being a ‘first’ or a ‘few’ in their corporate environments and many of the challenging dynamics that come with that, even in the best companies, are already exhausting.”
With women of color facing both the COVID-19 pandemic and the plague of racism, Goddess says, of course, stress levels increased in 2020. The survey found that despite lofty statements about a commitment to diversity, nearly two-thirds of women of color are not satisfied with their company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. And 60% of women of color feel that their companies are not prepared to handle racist incidents in the workplace — both contributing factors when it comes to leaving their jobs.
“Many of the women we speak with at nFormation are tired of having the same conversations over and over again with leaders who just don’t seem to consider the full scope of their realities and the ways in which they differ greatly from their white colleagues,” Goddess says. “They want to be in the company of people who get it without the need for a PowerPoint.”
Furthermore, many women of color want more than a career; they desire a calling, which also causes women of color to consider leaving their jobs.
“COVID has caused many women of color to reconsider their career paths and they want to find a career with greater purpose,” says Georgene Huang, CEO and co-founder of Fairygodboss.
Reclaiming My Time After Leaving My Job
Dionne Nicole of Houston, Texas, recently left her job at a full-service boutique marketing agency. She was hired to be a copywriter but as the company’s number of clients grew and the staff didn’t, she found her role expanding. Soon, she was handling strategy, business coaching, and project management for clients.
Then 2020 happened.
“It was a challenging year for all of us with the COVID-19 pandemic, but especially for me, as a single Black woman,” she says. “George Floyd’s murder was such a stark reminder that I’m not safe in this country, that the work isn’t over, and I have to continue to advocate for myself.”
Nicole says she felt that in order to do so, leaving her job was a must. She needed to no longer be in an environment that didn’t support her well-being.
“I also need to have more control over who benefits from my intelligence and gifts because I want the world to be different and I feel called to do my part,” she says. “That’s why I decided to start my own business.”
Today Dionne Nicole is a holistic business coach for women who want to do business differently. Her goal is to show women that the 9-to-5 or 40-hour workweek model isn’t the only path to productivity – something she realized during her time at her previous job.
“I need to have space for deep work, and I need to be able to stop and go for a walk and let my ideas marinate instead of being behind a desk just for the sake of being seen as working,” she says. “There is absolutely not just one way to accomplish something.”
Most of all, Dionne Nicole wants to help the women she works with to prioritize self-care. During the pandemic, she recorded more than 100 episodes for her podcast Unconventional Self-Care Diary to offer ways women can reexamine their relationship to self-care.
“A bath only goes so far,” she says.
Dionne Nicole wants to help women learn how to give themselves a break.
“More than anything, I’m on a mission to help women value rest because in a world that is ‘go, go, go,’ I want to reclaim my time,” she says. “My ancestors didn’t have the luxury of rest, so I actually consider it a form of my reparations.”
What Can Companies Do to Better Serve Women of Color?
If companies want to retain the women of color they employ, they must get serious about diversity and inclusion initiatives – which means moving beyond lip service.
“Corporate pledges and statements are a great place to start, but they need to be backed up with actions,” Huang says.
These actions should include investing time and resources into defining a diversity and inclusion strategy that spans recruitment, hiring, and workplace practices and that sets specific goals.
“From thousands of anonymous company reviews left on Fairygodboss, we know that seeing women and women of color, in positions of leadership is critical in attracting women to your organization and is a clear example of showcasing your commitment to gender diversity,” Huang says.
Company leaders must be willing to have difficult conversations.
“There has to be honest dialogue about where the gaps are in knowledge, mindset and behavior so that they can be addressed,” Goddess says. “Company leaders need to be willing to be educated about realities that are distinct from their own.”
Women of color need to feel safe to talk about the challenges they face and safe to say they need a break without it being detrimental to their career. Women of color also need to feel supported in their goals and aspirations.
“High quality leaders understand the importance of investing in their people,” Goddess says. “According to our women, there are cases where individual leaders within companies are doing it and it makes a world of difference when a woman of color can say that she feels seen and heard by the people who are supposed to serve and support her leadership.”
Women of color want credit where it’s due. When they don’t get it, they consider leaving their jobs.
“They want their intelligence, brilliance and infinite potential to be recognized instead of taken for granted,” Goddess says. “They want to be honored for their contribution.”
But company leaders must care about their employees’ overall well-being, too.
“At nFormation, our women are seeking a kind of asylum from all of these never-ending demands to put everyone else’s needs and agendas before their own health,” Goddess says. “Yes, women of color are strong, but we are also human.”
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