Bonita Stewart’s new research for the next era of leaders

“I took a zigzag approach to life and my career, climbing corporate ladders, swerving through the obstacle course of entrepreneurship and landing in Silicon Valley,” Bonita Stewart says of the path her work took her in. Along the way, she was often the only or the first woman or woman of color, or both. 

Bonita was also the first Black woman to be a vice president at Google, where she’s VP of Global Partnerships. In 2018, she teamed up with another Black woman who experienced “being the first:” her fellow Harvard Business School alumna and former CBS news White House correspondent Jacqueline (Jackie) Adams, who was the first Black woman CBS assigned full-time to cover the White House. Together, they co-authored the book “A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive." 

As part of their writing process, they surveyed 2,300 Black, Latinx, Asian and white women across generations. "Research on the impact of women of color in business remains limited, which is why Jackie and I wanted to expand on our first study and look into more topics," Bonita says. The 2020 Women of Color in Business: Cross-Generational Survey© (launched in partnership with the Executive Leadership Council) surveyed participants during the ongoing health and economic pandemics and racial justice protests. And unlike the 2019 report, the 2020 Survey also sought answers from 150 white male managers.

To learn a little more about Bonita and her research, I took some time to ask about her career path and to dive a little deeper into the survey’s findings. 

You focus on “generational diversity” in this year’s study. What does this mean and why is it important?

“Generational diversity” is a term that Jackie and I coined to highlight the nuances being overlooked in today’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion conversations, specifically, representation across generations.

The most important investment a company makes are the people it employs. Right now we’re in what we describe as “a new era of leadership,” where younger generations are demanding more authentic, empathetic leadership. 

Our survey found that Gen Z and Millennial workers, especially those who are Black and Latinx, are supremely confident they will control their careers. They’re mission-driven, wildly creative and tech-savvy. They expect their leaders to create a workplace of belonging for everyone. It’s equally important that leaders have a better appreciation for diverse — and very valuable — generational perspectives.

Don’t forget: The Census predicts these young people of color, currently between 18-29, will be the majority of Americans in the workforce by 2027.   

To all women of color, I say while we need to 'lean in,' we will do best if we team up.

What findings surprised you?

One of the most eye-opening stats was around what we call “side-preneurship” or the “side hustle:” 29% of Black women have a business they run or are developing in their free time, compared to 15% of Latinx women, 11% of Asian women and 10% of white women. That means Black women are nearly three times as likely to have a side hustle. 

And while it wasn’t exactly surprising, it was validating to see some findings regarding women managers. Specifically, of the women managers surveyed, only 44% of Black managers, 36% of Latinx managers, 37% of Asian women managers and 35% of white women managers received stretch assignments — an opportunity to develop skills outside of their day-to-day role — over the last 12 months versus 62% for white male managers. We also found honest feedback is helpful to thriving on the job. Only 51% of Latinx women managers, 48% Black women managers, 39% of white women managers and 37% of Asian women managers reported receiving helpful feedback — 75% of white male managers said they did, though.

There were also some surprising results when we asked about mentoring: Women were more willing to help anyone, regardless of race or gender, versus the men. We saw that anywhere from 56% to 65% of women reported this, compared to just 34% of men.

What can senior leadership and hiring managers learn from this report?

We believe great managers matter. If they want exceptional talent, leaders and managers must boost their capability, hire underrepresented minorities in multiples, provide honest feedback, offer stretch assignments and create an inclusive environment for all employees across all generations.

What advice do you have for women of color in business?

Specifically, I strongly encourage you to take on a stretch assignment as a way to grow your capabilities and progress in your career. It’s a great opportunity to differentiate yourself and achieve what others might think is impossible, unexpected or unlikely. Our data found that a large majority of women across all races said they hadn’t received a stretch assignment over the past year — though it was encouraging to see that 37% of Black and Latinx Millennials reported they had. Please take it upon yourself to pursue one!

And to all women of color, I say while we need to "lean in," we will do best if we team up. Surround yourself with those who believe in the diversity of thought, race, gender and generations. There are so many new, disruptive technologies opening unexpected fields — challenge yourself to explore and find both your passion and your purpose.