They face a persistent wage gap grounded in discriminatory workplace practices. They’re ignored for leadership positions when fully qualified and suffer poor health outcomes compared with other groups. But a new Nielsen report offers clues about what makes black women keep on keeping on, much in the way tennis great Serena Williams described in a letter to her mother posted Tuesday at Reddit.
In detailing her experience of racialized attempts to denigrate her professional success in tennis and beyond, Williams illustrates the plight of black women who are known for striving but also thriving, skills that are stressed in the Nielsen report on black women’s influence released today at the Congressional Black Caucus conference in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve been called man because I appeared outwardly strong,” Williams wrote, praising her mother for modeling grace, patience and perseverance in the face of racism and sexism. “It has been said that I use drugs (No, I have always had far too much integrity to behave dishonestly in order to gain an advantage).
“But mom,” Williams continued, “I’m not sure how you did not go off on every single reporter, person, announcer and quite frankly, hater, who was too ignorant to understand the power of a black woman.”
Williams’ dauntless spirit is mirrored by black women surveyed by Nielsen.
For example, while black women lack sponsors who can help them advance professionally, as research proves, they persist in goal-setting: 64 percent of black women say their goal is to make it to the top of their profession, according to Nielsen.
Community is important among black women surveyed: 29 percent spend three to four hours daily on social media, and 86 percent spent five or more hours a day. But that’s not all: 68 percent seek out variety in their daily lives, a desire that is 27 percent higher than that of white women.
“Black women are not only redefining what it means to be a woman for themselves, but are at the vanguard of changing gender roles and unlimited possibilities for American women of all ages and races,” according to the Nielsen report.
Black women are 14 percent of U.S. women and 52 percent of African-Americans. They skew young, with an average age of 35 years compared with an average age of 43 for white women and 39 for women overall, Nielsen said. More black women are earning bachelor’s degrees, 23 percent compared with 18 percent in 2005. And they mean business: Black women have the majority stake in 1.5 million businesses with more than $42 billion in sales.
Projecting a positive image while thinking holistically about the environment and their role in protecting it proved important to those surveyed by Nielsen:
• 68 percent of black women are content with their appearance.
• 60 percent of black women buy natural products because they are concerned about the environment.
• 63 percent buy natural, citing health concerns for themselves and their families.
• 46 percent of black women agree they often use natural or organic beauty products.
• 68 percent of black women agree they are content with their self-image.
And 55 percent said a company’s environmental record is important in buying decisions, more than the percentage for white women. Some 74 percent of black women agree climate change is a serious threat, 7 percent higher than white women.
According to Cheryl Grace, Nielsen’s senior vice president of U.S. community strategic alliances and consumer engagement: “Black women have strong life-affirming values that spill over into everything they do.”