Race in the workplace: The Black experience in the US private sector


Here is an excerpt from an article in the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. It explores the challenges that Black workers face in the private sector To read the complete article, check out others, learn more about the firm, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

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Advancing racial equity in the workplace is a system-level challenge—ranging from the structural inequities of geography to underrepresentation in industries and jobs that could create additional opportunity to the behaviors of the workplace itself.
This report explores Black workers in the private sector in three parts: first, their participation in the entire US private-sector economy; second, their representation, advancement, and experience in companies; and third, a path forward that includes the key challenges to address, actions companies can take, and additional actions for a wider set of stakeholders to accelerate progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).

The participation of Black workers in the US private-sector economy

In the United States, Black workers account for 15 million, or 12 percent, of the 125 million US private-sector workers. The overall Black labor force, including the entire private sector, public sector, and the unemployed looking for work is 20.6 million. Our analysis of economic data, primarily drawn from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the US Census Bureau from 2019, 3 as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 2018, reinforces the immense complexity of the challenge facing many of the Black private-sector workers today.

The concentration of the Black labor force by geography, industry, and occupation creates challenges and mismatches

Overall, our analysis found that Black workers are underrepresented in the highest-growth geographies and the highest-paying industries. Meanwhile, they are overrepresented in low-growth geographies and in frontline jobs, which tend to pay less. 

The Black labor force is concentrated in states in the South

Almost 60 percent of the Black labor force (11.8 million people) is concentrated in the South, compared with just one-third of the rest of private-sector workers (Exhibit 1). 5 As a result, companies located in states with low Black populations—for example, much of the West and parts of the Midwest and Northeast—will need to think differently about how they effectively attract Black talent (Exhibit 2).

The Black labor force is not located in the fastest-growing regions

Overall, Black workers are not located in the places where current job opportunities are and where job growth will likely rise the fastest through 2030. For example, fewer than one in ten Black workers is located in the fastest-growing cities and counties (such as Provo, Utah). Instead, they overwhelmingly live in places where job growth will range from low to above average, with the bright spots being in megacities (such as Chicago) and urban periphery (such as Clayton County, Georgia). 6 For the growth to be inclusive in these areas, workers need to be connected to the opportunities being created (for example, transportation between Black neighborhoods and job locations) and have the right skills for in-demand jobs.

Almost half of Black workers are in three industries with a large frontline presence, with significant underrepresentation especially in high-growth, high-wage industries

Our analysis found that 45 percent of Black private-sector workers (approximately 6.7 million people) work in three industries that have a large frontline-service presence: healthcare, retail, and accommodation and food service. These industries also have some of the highest shares of workers making less than $30,000 (Exhibit 3). In retail, 73 percent of Black workers fall into this category; in accommodations and food service, that share is 84 percent.

Conversely, Black workers are underrepresented in industries such as information technology, professional services, and financial services—all sectors that typically have relatively higher wages and job growth.

Fewer than one in ten Black workers is located in the fastest-growing cities and counties.

More Black workers are in jobs with less opportunity for advancement

More Black private-sector workers, 43 percent, make less than $30,000 per year, compared with 29 percent of the rest of private-sector employees (Exhibit 4). In addition, Black workers tend to be in the industries with the largest frontline labor forces. Three in five Black workers work in frontline jobs such as service workers, laborers, operatives, and office and clerical workers.

Black workers are at higher risk of disruption from automation

Automation will prove disruptive to the labor force in the years to come, but its impact won’t be evenly distributed. For example, one-third of Black workers are in occupational groups such as production work, food service, and office support, which are at heightened risk of losing their jobs to automation. One encouraging trend: health aides is the occupational group with the highest expected job growth through 2030, and these occupations are disproportionately filled by Black workers.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Bryan Hancock is a partner in McKinsey’s Washington, DC, office; Monne Williams is a partner in the Atlanta office; James Manyika and Lareina Yee are senior partners in the San Francisco office; and Jackie Wong is a consultant in the Philadelphia office.

This experience was brought to you through an intensive collaborative effort by Mike Borruso, Vanessa Burke, Victor Cuevas, Mona Hamouly, Drew Holzfeind, Richard Johnson, Eleni Kostopoulos, Julie Macias, Janet Michaud, Kathleen O’Leary, Charmaine Rice, Dana Sand, Mythili Sankara, Julie Schwade, Katherine Shearer, Cary Shoda, Margaret Swink, Petra Vincent, and Nathan Wilson.


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