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[MADAME NOIRE] Is It Enough for Black Women to ‘Lean In’ To Succeed?

Most of the barriers holding you back from reaching the same level of professional success as men are in your own mind. That’s the message behind Sheryl Sandberg’s much talked about bestselling memoir/manifesto Lean In. Many Black women are responding with a resounding, “speak for yourself.”

Sandberg admits that as an Ivy League graduate and COO of Facebook, she has access to privilege other women don’t. But she still believes women can break down institutionalized barriers by changing the way they think. What about the women who were “leaning in” before there was a book about it? Is “leaning in” enough for Black women to succeed?

Twice the Effort For Less Reward

History says, no. Black professionals have long subscribed to the belief that they have to work twice as hard as their White counterparts to attain the same amount of success. For years, Black women have excelled at Lean In principles like dreaming big and sitting at tables where they aren’t welcome, only to see their efforts go unrewarded.

Professional black women make up only one percent of U.S. corporate officers, despite the fact that 75 percent of corporate executives believe that having minorities in senior level positions improves innovation and better serves customers. Half the Black women surveyed for the Alliance for Board Diversity Census believed they have not received the rewards and recognition they should have earned for their investment on the job.

This may explain why Black women are leaving to start their own business at three-to-five times the rate of all business. Some 1.9 million firms are majority-owned (51 percent or more) by women of color who employ over 1.2 million people according to the Center for Women’s Business Research.

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