Executive Summary

It’s Time to Reset, Rejuvenate, and Reimagine Our Power to Resist, Act & Win! is the theme of the Black Women’s Roundtable’s (BWR) 10th Annual Black Women in the US and Key States, 2023 Report. This year’s report continues BWR’s series, which provides in-depth analyses and insights that highlight the needs and conditions of Black women throughout the nation. This report also provides policy-centered recommendations and direction on how to improve the overall well-being of Black women and families across a wide array of issues. 

This report shares the vision, voices, wisdom, and uniquely distinct experiences and perspectives of Black women. The contributors to this year’s report provide insights on the four categories listed below. 

Section 1

RESET: Black Women Resetting and Expanding Our Power to Win in Politics, Business, Education, Economics, and the Federal Judiciary

  • Black women are confronted with critical challenges when running for and holding elected offices. The majority of Black women running for and holding public office continue to support a political party that does not support them. This poses a critical challenge for Black women running for office in majority White districts. In spite of this challenge, Black women candidates are a force to be reckoned with, as evident by the recent victory of Jennifer McClellan, the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress from Virginia.   
  • The number of Black women entrepreneurs and corporate leaders is growing, and they need support.  The number of Black women-owned businesses and Black women corporate executives is increasing. However, Black women entrepreneurs need access to capital, resources, and networks to help make their businesses financially successful. 

Although more Black women are leading in the corporate sector, only two Black women are chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies. To increase the number of Black women in corporate leadership and on corporate boards, Black women need access to leadership pipelines and networks, and greater support from mentors, sponsors, and coaches. 

Black women business owners and corporate leaders must also develop a proactive approach to their health and wellness as an essential component to achieving success. 

  • Black women are concerned about the denigration and mischaracterization of critical race theory (CRT) and Black history education. Politicians are running campaigns on removing CRT from the schools when it is not a topic that was developed for primary and secondary education. There is a need to explain critical race theory and ensure that it is not used as a way to remove Black History from the curriculum.
  • Black women celebrate victories as more Black women are confirmed to the bench of the federal judiciary.  The increase in Black women being nominated and confirmed as judges throughout the federal judiciary is cause for celebration for Black women. Black women have fought for decades to get a Black woman seated on the Supreme Court of the United States. They were able to celebrate a victory when Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed and sworn in as an Associate Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Section 2

REJUVENATE AND REIMAGINE: Black Women Rejuvenating and Reimagining What is Needed for Our Wellbeing: Taking Care of Our Bodies, Minds, and Spirits 

  • The “Strong Black Woman” trope is killing Black women.  The broadly accepted and perpetuated archetype of the Strong Black Woman is a self-silencing mechanism for Black women.  It encourages Black women to hide their stress, depression and trauma.  Research shows those Black women who self-identify as strong Black women are more likely to experience debilitating depression and increased suicidal ideation.  While identifying as strong can be inspirational and flattering, it becomes dangerous once one’s humanity is ignored and emotions are suppressed instead of being openly acknowledged and processed.
  • The Mental Health Crisis is on The Rise.  In recent years, several high-profile Black celebrity suicides have highlighted the Mental Health crisis in the Black community.  But mental health challenges are not limited to those in the spotlight.  In recent years, it has been estimated that suicide rates in the Black community has increased by 30%.  And for Black women especially, acknowledging and proactively centering mental health is long overdue.  
  • Making it Easier to Access to Mental Health Services is Critical.  While seeking mental health services have historically been stigmatized in the Black community, more information on mental health in social media and beyond has reduced stigmatization, yet access for many is still difficult to acquire.  What Black women need is easily accessible and affordable mental health care services with mental health professionals of color specifically. Mental Health Ambassadors help bridge the gap by highlighting the availability of services and specifically connecting individuals who need help to the care they require.
  • Holistic Wellbeing is the Ultimate Self-Care.  Black women often exist in chronic survival mode as evidenced by hyper-independence, as well as never ending care-taking of others, self-sacrificing and incessant resilience.  This existence is taxing on the body and the mind. To address absence of balance and restore calm, rest is essential.  It is a gateway to well-being, ultimately relaxing the parasympathetic nervous system, and producing the sense of calm—ultimately providing mental, physical and spiritual well-being.

Section 3

RESIST: Black Women in the Fight to Protect Our Safety, Reproductive Justice and Immigration Justice Continues

  • Historic racism and a long-standing mistrust of the justice system has caused Black women victims of domestic violence to turn to sister circles as first responders. Black females are more likely to be killed by their spouse, an intimate acquaintance, or a family member than by a stranger. Far too often, these Black women feel that their voices are not being heard, and that the criminal justice system, as well as other agencies of government, are not working in their interests to achieve justice for them and protect them from domestic violence. As a result, Black women are more likely to turn to their church, informal networks, and other Black women to serve as first responders.
  • Black woman victims of rape and sexual assault are often blamed as being responsible for the crime. Black women and girls 12 years and older experience higher rates of rape and sexual assault than other women and girls. However, Black women and girls are perceived as less believable and more responsible for the crimes committed against them than a White victim.  
  • Addressing Homicide in the Black Community. Homicide rates due to firearms have reached epidemic proportions in the Black community. The Black community needs to acknowledge the negative impact this crisis is having on Black people. Addressing this emergency requires the Black community to create strategic partnerships with community and health organizations, businesses, and government. 
  • Reproductive Justice is a human right. Black women in the U.S. on average are approximately three times more likely to die of complications from pregnancy than White women. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes clear that these  deaths are preventable over 60% of the time.

For Black women in the U.S. giving birth can be more dangerous than it is in developing countries. This is because Black women are subjected to systemic racist conditions such as poverty, toxic environments, and discriminatory medical systems that make them sicker than White people before they are pregnant, which leads to worse health outcomes in pregnancy and childbirth. For these reasons, Black women advocate for reproductive justice to protect their right to parent children in communities that are safe and sustainable.

  • Black Women are Leaders in the Fight for Immigration Justice. The historic and current roles that Black women play as leaders in the movement for immigration rights and justice need to be recognized because they are often overlooked.

Section 4

ACT: Black Women Taking Action for Justice: Protecting Our Privacy, Health, Environment, Labor Rights, Economic Security, Equality, Community and Saving Our Democracy from Peril

  • Privacy Rights are Civil Rights.  Data has wide-ranging impacts on our lives.  Housing advertisers target potential renters or buyers based on race, religion, sex and family status.  Lending algorithms have been found to calculate higher interest rates for borrowers who have attended HBCUs.  And Black Americans were targeted for misinformation by Russian operatives, accounting for fully 38% of US-focused ads purchased in the 2016 Presidential election. Similarly, 3.5 million African Americans were categorized by the Trump campaign as “deterrence voters,” or voters they simply wanted to keep away from the ballot box in 2020.  Improved privacy rights are crucial for the protection of the Black community from such unscrupulous targeting in the future.
  • Take Action Against Black Maternal Mortality.   In 2023, Black women continue to die or have serious negative consequences of childbirth resulting in death or harm to the baby, more than any other racial/ethnic group in America.  This is true across socio-economic status.  We can address this long-standing problem by at minimum: diversifying the medical workforce; creating inclusive and supportive workforce environments for underrepresented minority physicians (including addressing implicitly bias); providing anti-racism training; promoting inclusivity; and by holding those responsible for unprofessional and discriminatory behaviors accountable.  
  • Black Women’s Post-Pandemic Labor Force Participation Rebounds.  In February, 2020, just before the pandemic began, Black women’s labor force participation rate was 63.9%.  In January, 2023, Black women’s labor force participation had rebounded to 62.6% (the highest of any group of women) compared to 59.3% in April, 2020.
  • Black Women Still Suffer From Disproportionately High Unemployment.  Despite their continued strong attachment to the labor force, Black women still experience disproportionately high unemployment.  As of February 2020, Black Women’s unemployment was 4.8% and by May of 2020, unemployment among Black women peaked at 16.6%.  Although Black women’s unemployment has decreased as of January 2023 to 4.7%, it’s still high compared to a 2.8% unemployment rate for white women, 2.6% for Asian women and 4.4% for Latinas.
  • Black Women Still Experience a Double Wage Gap.  In 2022, women workers were paid just 77 cents for every dollar paid to a man.  However, Black women workers were paid just 64 cents to every dollar made by white male workers.  While white women were paid 73 cents to the dollar and Latina and Native American women were paid 54 and 51 cents respectively.
  • Wage Gaps Have Long-Term Implications.  Over the course of a 40-year career, the wage gap results in a loss of nearly $400,000 for the average woman and nearly $900,000 for the average Black woman.  In some areas this disparity is even worse.  For example, in the District of Columbia, the average lifetime wage loss for Black women is $2,000,000 when compared to the earnings of white men.
  • Improve the Black Women’s Wages by Improving Wages & Benefits in Key Occupations.  Occupational segregation is a primary driver of race and gender wage gaps as Black women are especially likely to work in low-paying service sector jobs.  Supporting Black women’s employment requires improving wages and benefits in the occupations in which they are most likely to work and addressing barriers to their employment in higher paying occupations.
  • Key legislative priorities could help close the wage gap.  A wide range of legislative actions, together, could go a long way towards addressing this long-standing pay disparity problem.  For example, the Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen pay discrimination laws, permit pay transparency and limit the use of prior salary in job opportunity negotiations.  Additionally, the Family and Medical Leave Act, would provide 12 weeks of paid leave, while the Childcare for Working Families Act would provide child care and early learning to low and moderate income families. The Fair Employment Protection Act would raise the Federal minimum wage to $15/hour and phase out the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, youth workers and workers with disabilities.  In addition to these federal bills, state leaders could also adopt workplace policies that would help close the wage gap.
  • The Equal Rights Amendment Would Provide Greater Protections for Black Women.  The ERA would give Black women legal support for existing and future laws to go deeper than they currently can to ensure sex equality.  It would provide a greater focus on intersectional discrimination, improve employment and educational opportunities, provide recourse against gender-based violence and improved access to health care including reproductive and maternal care.