When I stepped out on my own as an entrepreneur earlier this year, I decided to pay it forward and offer free one-on-one career coaching sessions. I threw up a link to a form on and within 48 hours, more than 200 applications poured in.
The vast majority of the bunch were Black women and a whopping 90% said they were looking to quit their jobs by the end of the year. Now, I’m the first to admit this survey sample is far from nationally representative. My social media following comprises largely women of color between the ages of 25 and 44 and since the majority of them know me from my podcast , they tend to be an especially career-driven group.
But, with some additional research, I realized my rudimentary survey was really a snapshot of a much larger trend in corporate America: Black women really are leaving traditional 9-to-5 jobs at staggering rates. Here’s why.
Our jobs were ravaged by the pandemic
Black women saw the slowest job recovery since January 2020 and suffered the largest decline in labor force participation, according to the Labor Department. This was largely because women of color over-indexed in the types of jobs most susceptible to cutbacks such as travel, tourism, and service jobs.
Today, the unemployment rate for Black women sits at 6.9% compared to an overall unemployment rate of 4.8%.
“It took until 2018 for Black women’s employment to recover from the Great Recession, and now almost all of those hard-won gains have been erased,” Janelle Jones, chief economist for the Labor Department.
We’re tired of working twice as hard for unequal pay
Among the women who filled out my career coaching application, the overwhelming majority (84.5%) said higher pay was their top reason for quitting. The reality is that quitting one job for a new opportunity can often lead to much higher salary increases than remaining with your current employer.
As a Black woman who had the added economic disadvantage of graduating during a national recession, I learned to aggressively pursue jobs with higher pay in order to catch up to my peers. On average, I each time I quit for a new opportunity.
This won’t be the case for everyone, of course. But when the labor market is as desperate for talent as it is these days, I encourage working women to consider leveraging their skills for new, higher-paying opportunities elsewhere.
We’re launching our own businesses and starting side hustles
Black women are among the fast-growing group of entrepreneurs in the country. Between 2014 and 2019, women-owned businesses grew by 21%, but Black women-owned businesses grew at a whopping rate of 50%, according to a recent study by American Express. The number of Black women running a side business outside of regular work increased 99% compared with an increase of 32% for all ‘sidepreneurs’.
I joined the ranks of Black women business owners earlier this year when I launched my own career coaching and consulting firm. Speaking from experience, the scheduling flexibility and financial upside alone have been enough reasons for me to kiss traditional 9-to-5 life goodbye for now.
We’re tired of waiting to be recognized by higher-ups
I’ve held dozens of coaching sessions with Black women looking for career changes this year. A common complaint is feeling overlooked for promotions and lacking positive feedback from their managers.
Research shows it’s not all in our heads. In a nationwide of more than 3,000 women professionals, nearly two-thirds of Black women (64%) said they felt they needed to work harder than white women to advance at work, more than any other racial/ethnic group, according to Working Mother Media.
Black women are also glaringly absent in senior management. Women of color make up 17% of entry-level positions, but just 9% of senior managers, 7% of VP-level positions, 5% of SVP positions, and 4% of C-suite positions, according to the 2021 Women in the Workplace by LeanIn.org.
It’s exhausting being a Black woman at work
It’s hard to describe the mental and emotional toll that it takes to be a Black woman in traditional corporate settings. Imagine enduring , dealing with managers who underestimate your talents, knowing you’re likely paid less than your peers, and feeling as if you’ve got to work twice as hard to have the same opportunities as others. Throw into the mix a pandemic that killed Black men and women at higher rates than any other group and wreaked havoc on our finances, and it’s a recipe for burnout.
Even for the rare Black woman like myself who managed to make it to the senior director level, the reality of being “the only one” still took a toll. I’ve been given outstanding performance reviews and yet told I was too intimidating to my colleagues. I’ve been confused for the office assistant. I’ve been critiqued for my vocal support for Black Lives Matter and dismissed as a diva. I’ve been patronized by well-meaning white superiors far too many times to count. I managed to carve out a stellar career I’m proud of, as do many women of color, but I can 100% understand why so many Black women are simply fed up.
Mandi Woodruff-Santos is inclusive wealth-building advocate, career expert and co-host of the popular podcast Brown Ambition. Her work has appeared in CNBC, Business Insider, Teen Vogue and U.S. News & World Report.