Health, wealth and career disparities between Black and white Americans are pervasive and well documented. In contrast, when it comes to strategies that employers can take to directly impact race-based inequality, there is still much to be understood — and much to be done.


These disparities begin with the widely known gaps in workforce representation. Black employees are notably underrepresented in higher career levels (manager, senior manager and executive levels) which reflects, in part, unexplained disparities in promotion. We also see gaps in unemployment rates and occupational distributions by earning potential.


Career gaps cascade into wealth gaps. White employees earn 126% of what Black employees earn in weekly wages, resulting in race-based differences in stock ownership, homeownership and other indicators of financial wellness. Black American families have a median net worth that is nearly eight times lower than white families’. Even more troubling, it’s falling. 


Finally, Black Americans experience lower rates of health coverage and access, which drives higher rates of chronic disease, illness and death across a wide range of health conditions. The issue extends to trust in the healthcare system and even infant mortality and life expectancy rates, to name just a few areas of health disparity.


No organization is an exact microcosm of society, and gaps that are true in general may not be true for any given employer. Mercer has worked with organizations on comprehensive analyses of factors influencing critical workforce outcomes like promotion, performance, retention and pay. We have found —  all too often —  significant barriers to the success of Black employees at work. But we have also uncovered examples of employers who have managed to deliver on pay, career and employment equity. These examples show what’s possible. And they also provide a hopeful view of the potential of employers to play a powerful role in closing the wealth gap (and all that flows from it) for society at large.


We believe that the failure to achieve career equity for Black employees in the US workforce is a major roadblock to closing racial divides when it comes to wealth and health.  The “unexplained” differences associated with race can signal and compound the failure of employers to deliver career equity and remains a severe challenge to the ability of Black employees to thrive professionally and financially in the corporate sector.


Employers are under increasing pressure to take action and are eager for guidance. The rise in stakeholder capitalism, a sharp focus on DEI and ESG, and rising demands for transparency and disclosure are pressuring companies from outside.  And many companies have taken on goals around identifying and addressing systemic problems within their organizations. Yet there are too few evidence-based solutions to help accelerate the progress.


Mercer’s latest research survey — launching on September 7, 2021 —  will focus on uncovering the root causes of workplace inequities for Black employees in the US, identifying which specific actions, policies and behaviors are helping to close these gaps — and which are exacerbating the problems. We expect to unearth valuable insights on how the corporate sector can help close the wealth gap by addressing pay, career, health, experience, and employment disparities — as well as shedding light on any newer or innovative actions that can help drive a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace — and society.


As we embark on this research, we would like to invite your company to participate. 


The benefits are clear. Your organization will be joining a timely and critical national conversation. This data will help inform your own racial equity goals, as you can view your efforts in the context of industry and national benchmarks. Participating organizations will also receive a custom Internal Labor Market (ILM) map, an insightful view of current headcounts, hiring, promotion and turnover rates of Black employees compared to other groups.


Increased equity in your organization will also help drive your future economic success — improving your culture benchmarks and employee experience and assuring investors that you are taking steps to support your DEI and ESG goals. In an employment environment increasingly focused on ensuring racial equality, it will also help your organization succeed in attracting and retaining new talent — which is sure to become a significant employer differentiator.

Angela Berg
Angela Berg

Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consulting Leader at Mercer

Questions about the survey? Contact us