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Published on January 6, 2023.

By: Yanet Mengistie

The Great Resignation is hitting employers hard. In 2019, it was recorded as the most job losses in a month and with an average of 3.5 million workers who resigned. In 2021, this record was exceeded with the 47.8 million workers walking off jobs—an average of four million a month—referred to as The Great Resignation.

Most of these facts stem from the 2020 pandemic, which forced many to question both their personal and work lives. Many people were forced into an existential crisis. As a result, they found themselves no longer wanting to deal with a demeaning boss or lower wages.

Not to mention, the demographics of employers who are choosing to leave their jobs is quite revealing. In 2021, The Brookings Institution found that there was a “dramatic drop” in Black women employees in the workforce. While others are leaving to seek better pay and benefits, Black women are leaving for completely different reasons.

The glass ceiling

One of the main reasons why Black women are fleeing their jobs is due to the racial glass ceiling. Many people know about the glass ceiling—the barrier women face to achieving senior-level positions—but many are unaware of the racialized aspect of this experience.

This is when women of colour, in particular Black women, are denied promotions or growth opportunities in the workplace despite being qualified, or even over-qualified, for their present position.

This is not just a few one-off cases but a broader reoccurring issue. A 2021 report by McKinsey and Company looked into the experiences of Black employees in United States corporations. They found that while these companies are hiring Black workers there is a “drop-off ” in representation when it comes to advancement.

Black workers make up only seven per cent of the management positions in these corporations analyzed. In more senior positions, it gets worse with roles such as senior manager and Vice President having only four to five per cent Black professionals.

There is a gap between Black professionals in entry-level positions versus management positions. It is not as if Black entry-level workers do not want these jobs—Coqual’s Being Black in Corporate America report, found that out of the business professionals they interviewed, 65 per cent of the Black workers were more ambitious in their careers versus 53 per cent of white workers.

Black professionals are noticing this gap in representation in entry-level to management positions which is why they are a part of The Great Resignation with eight million Black workers leaving their jobs in 2021.

Normalized toxicity

Another reason for a large number of Black resignations is toxic work environments. MIT Sloan conducted a study and found that a toxic work environment was more of a significant reason than compensation for workers’ resignations. Black professionals have to deal with racialized aspects of this toxicity such as microaggressions.

In 2018, a Women in the Workplace report revealed these microaggressions in workplaces. The assessed examples of microaggressions, such as having your skill sets and judgment questioned in your field, being asked to provide more evidence of your abilities, and hearing belittling remarks about you or someone who looks like you. In all these instances, Black women reported a higher number of toxic instances compared to white men and women.

A survey revealed similar findings. Published in The Journal of Applied Psychology, the survey looked at professionals from five large American companies which found that out of all women, women of colour are more likely to face workplace harassment.

Microaggressions contribute to an emotionally damaging work culture as Black women are constantly undercut for their contributions and can see the way their accomplishments are not valued the same. Black women feel this, which is why one report found that 80 per cent of POC professionals prefer a remote or hybrid work style compared to other white employees.

So where are Black women going?

Black women are not putting up with the glass ceiling and toxic environments anymore. Instead, many of the Black women that have been a part of The Great Resignation have not only been job hopping, but have been starting their own businesses.

The Nielsen Company found that Black female entrepreneurs are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States. The report from the company found that between 2007 and 2012 the number of Black women-owned businesses grew exponentially by 67 per cent. While women of all categories grew by 27 per cent and white women grew by 13 per cent during the same time.

During The Great Resignation, Black women started 2.7 million businesses all over the United States, making them the fastest growing group in 2021 as well.

This is not simply because Black women are strong, it is because of the problems in the workplace, such as microaggressions and career barriers, that push Black women out. The pandemic has caused many of them to realize that they no longer need to subject themselves to mistreatment.

That is why Black women are seeking to pave their way in economic markets and create new opportunities for themselves. They are aware of the current norms in the fields they integrate, which demand substantial work to be truly inclusive and innovative.

It is no coincidence that Black women’s entrepreneurship has risen, and the numbers of Black women in the workforce have fallen. Black women have realized that some things cannot be fixed from within the organizations or corporations. Thus starting independent businesses can create new norms around work culture and advancements in the workplace.

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