This August, the United States celebrated the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which secured women’s hard-won right to vote. We join in the celebration of Women’s Equality Day 2020. But we also take this time to remember that women of color faced were prevented from voting even after the 19th Amendment was passed. We must learn from the past and recommit to taking meaningful action that removes the barriers that still exist for women of color in the workplace and beyond.

A History of Voting Barriers in the US for Women & Women of Color

Women’s Equality Day, which became a national holiday in 1973, honored the more than 70 years it took women in the United States to gain their democratic right to vote for their local, state, and federal representatives, including the President. Yet even with passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, many women were still unable to vote due to intentional and systemic disenfranchisement. On paper, the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870 forbade states from denying anyone the right to vote based on their race. But states still disenfranchised voters through the use of restrictive poll taxes and grandfather clauses, commonly known as Jim Crow Laws.

After the passage of the 19th Amendment, Black women registered to vote and showed up at the polls in record numbers – far surpassing white women in many states. However, Jim Crow laws stopped many of them from exercising their hard-won right. To learn more about the history of Black women and voting in the United States, check out this National Geographic article.

Native American women also faced barriers to voting after the passage of the 19th Amendment. As reported in the New York Times, Native American women participated in the Women’s Suffrage movement in the early 1900’s. Yet they were denied U.S. citizenship because of the laws that governed tribal lands at the time. In fact, Native Americans across the U.S. would not gain legal citizenship until 1924, and it took more than 40 years for all 50 states to grant Native Americans the right to vote.

The Workplace for Women of Color

From greater opportunity and increased representation to more equitable earnings, women in the U.S. have made remarkable progress in the workforce, according to McKinsey’s annual Women in the Workplace report. However, much like with the history of voting rights, we still need to do more to help advance women of color and women from marginalized groups, including women with disabilities and LGBTQ women.

As the 2019 McKinsey report shows, both Black women and women with disabilities face more barriers to advancement and receive less support from their managers than other groups of women. They’re also less likely to feel they have an equal opportunity to grow and develop in the workplace. Unsurprisingly then, the attrition rates of Black and Latina women are significantly higher than their white counterparts, in large part due to the feeling of being ignored or misunderstood in the workplace.

Working relationships with senior leadership are crucial to winning the financial and/or personnel resources to move an idea forward. However, women interact far less with senior leaders than do men in the workplace, and Black women are the most likely to report that they have never had senior-level contact. Latina women are second most likely to report this lack of contact. As a result, these women have reduced opportunity for advancement, due to reduced access to resource allocation, promotion opportunities, and overall comfort in the workplace.

 

VMware Office of the CTO Driving Change to Advance Women in the Workplace

As with voting, broad statements and positive intentions are not enough to overcome the real-world barriers to career advancement. We must actively foster opportunities and inclusion for women of color and women from marginalized groups in the workplace. That means targeting the problems that prevent advancement and ensuring that all teams and leaders commit to this shared effort.

With that in mind, VMware Office of the CTO (OCTO) has committed to three major changes through our diversity and inclusion efforts. We will be measuring success through regular review of leaders’ progress towards these goals, as well as through continued evaluation of our hiring practices, promotion numbers, and attrition percent.

  1. Leadership Accountability Diversity and Inclusion through Goals

All OCTO leaders were asked to provide a detailed diversity and inclusion plan for their teams and themselves as individuals, including all supporting actions for their goals, and the metrics they will use to measure progress. For internal transparency, we have posted these goals where all OCTO team members can access and review them. OCTO leaders will be held accountable to the goals they set for themselves and their teams.

  1. Manager Capabilities and Resources

In addition to VMware’s resources for managers, we are implementing additional OCTO-specific manager trainings around topics such as giving feedback, inclusive language, and providing sponsorship. We’re also increasing collaboration efforts within OCTO, including quarterly forums, information sharing, and formal 360 reviews where managers can receive feedback from supervisors, peers, and direct reports. We hope the additional focus on manager training and confidence will help them support all members of their teams.

  1. Inclusive, Unbiased Hiring and Promotions

VMware’s Talent Acquisition team has to help hiring managers and teams throughout the process, with a definitive emphasis on building diverse pipelines and creating an inclusive and s. We have also set new within OCTO to encourage unbiased and efficient hiring decisions. We review unopened requisitions regularly to avoid potential roadblocks and we always provide oversight into compensation packages. Individual teams have enacted policies to ensure fair and unbiased evaluation of merit and promotions.

 

When working to build a more diverse and inclusive work culture, we need to recognize the barriers certain groups of people have faced throughout history and hold ourselves accountable to fix additional barriers in the workplace today. We need to hear as many unique and diverse voices as possible to drive innovation and move our company, our customers, and our world forward.