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March 5, 2018 VIEWPOINT

Viewpoint: Women of color need to break the concrete ceiling

Melanie Bonsu

We've all heard of the glass ceiling, an invisible barrier hindering women from rising within the ranks of corporate America. The term was coined in the 1980's and even resulted in a special commission in the U.S. Department of Labor – the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission – which issued a report in 1995, Good for Business: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital. More than 20 years later, the glass ceiling is still a problem. In 2017 only 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women; that's 32 women to 468 men.

In 1999, Catalyst, a global nonprofit working to help build workplaces empowering women issued its own report, Women of Color in Corporate Management: Opportunities and Barriers, and introduced the concept of the concrete ceiling. The concrete ceiling, much like the glass ceiling, is a barrier for professional advancement of women, but unlike the glass ceiling, it is specific to women of color. Unlike glass, concrete is impossible to see through and much harder to break. Out of the 32 women CEOs mentioned above, only two are women of color (shout out to Pacific Gas & Electricity and Pepsi). Additionally, women of color occupy 3.8 percent of board seats at Fortune 500s. Yet, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, more women of color are earning degrees than their male and white female counterparts.

How do we as a community become a jackhammer and help to break the concrete? The Girl Scout Research Institute, a think-tank surveying thousands of girls nationally on issues impacting them the most, found only one in five girls believes they can be a leader. However, the aspiration to lead was higher among girls of color.

I wholeheartedly believe that seeing is believing. Offering young girls opportunities to see women who look like them in roles of leadership will help create the next generation of female leaders. I'm lucky to work for a company that practices what we preach; our senior leadership team is all female and 42.8 percent of us are women of color. One of my favorite things to do is visit our community-based programs throughout Worcester. At Woodland Academy in the Main South neighborhood, we have enthusiastic girls who take part in the Girl Scout Leadership Experience program at no cost to them. The volunteers who help our program team are diverse college students who the girls can relate to.

The creator of Take Your Daughter to Work Day, Marie C. Wilson, is quoted with saying, “You cannot be what you cannot see.” If women of color can't see themselves in positions of power, the concrete ceiling will never shatter. It's our responsibility as a community to show these young girls they can take the lead. Numerous opportunities throughout Greater Worcester offer ways to get involved, inspire and create a pipeline of female leaders, specifically ones to appropriately represent our diverse community.

Melanie Bonsu is director of development for the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts.

Read the entire Boardroom Gap series

Feb. 5 edition

– WBJ's Findings: Women vastly underrepresented in Central Mass. corporate leadership

– The Pay Gap: Central Mass. male executives make $1.3M vs. $573K for women

– Editorial OpinionThe importance of diversity

– Letter from the Editor: Can't keep doing the same thing and expect different results

Feb. 19 edition 

- Feeling Marginalized: Central Mass. businesswomen who've sat in positions of power say they don't get the same automatic credibility as men

– Gender Diversity = Profits: Companies with a greater mix of women in leadership perform better

March 5 edition 

– Narrowing the Boardroom Gap: Financial, legislative and cultural pressures are creating more gender diverse business leadership

– The Best Candidate Gets the Job: Diverse candidate pools lead to diverse companies, leading local firms say

– Letter from the Editor: Now comes the hard part

– Viewpoint Opinion: Women of color need to break the concrete ceiling

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