In 2017, almost two years after I began working in Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), I wrote a blog post that described my observations about the uniformly high quality of black women I had met at various professional events. Subsequent to writing that blog, as my network continued to expand I became increasingly aware of what appeared to be a correlation between the level of societal disadvantage faced by an individual in a leadership role, and the sheer quality of their work. As a scientist, I wondered whether there was a way to confirm my impression.
The idea that greater disadvantages may lead to lower representation seems reasonable: to the extent that a system that includes advancement opportunities – such as a corporation, our educational system or the military – exhibits biases against specific segments of the population, you would expect lower and lower representation of disadvantaged segments at higher and higher levels of advancement. In fact, I have previously published a blog and a subsequent academic paper demonstrating exactly this phenomenon in the specific context of gender biases in corporate promotions.