Why Aren’t Black Employees Getting More White-Collar Jobs?

Forty years ago, two companies were known for aggressively recruiting minorities on college campuses: IBM and Xerox, both considered hot tech companies of that era. My senior year in college, a black sales rep from IBM encouraged me and a group of fellow black students to consider a career with the company. It offered a competitive salary and extensive training, and it could point to several minority leaders in management. When I joined the company, my branch sales manager — someone I considered a field office general — was black, as were many of my instructors. The job began my long career in the high-tech industry.

Decades later, I’ve seen very little progress in minority executive employment. It seems the national conversation and media focus on the subject have resulted in minimal impact. And yet the ecosystem supporting diversity is quite large — government agencies, formal corporate diversity programs, universities, consultants, and dozens of civil rights advocacy groups. So why has change been so slow?

For one thing, political rhetoric has created public tumult about the drivers of middle-class decline: globalization, technology, and immigration’s impact on U.S. jobs. Another recurring theme is an allegedly unlevel playing field for white males created by public- and private-sector diversity programs (affirmative action) to attract and promote a more diverse workforce. And the courts have weighed in on “reverse discrimination” cases, slowing the growth of diversity in some universities and companies.

As a longtime African-American executive who’s skeptical of reverse-discrimination claims, I wanted to find answers to a few questions: What exactly do black employment numbers look like today? How are blacks faring in promotions? Are blacks’ gains in executive and management ranks keeping pace with gains in the professional workforce?

The Numbers

Detailed analysis of employment numbers can help us understand racial and gender income inequality in America. A review of white-collar employment data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reveals serious gaps in income, promotional opportunities, and advancement for minorities and women of all races.

An innovative model developed by the Ascend Foundation provides special insight. Using an EEOC database of employment data by race, gender, and job classification, it assesses management diversity with a ratio of minorities’ representation in management to their representation in non-managerial professional levels, a metric that Ascend calls executive parity index (EPI).

EPI helps us understand how well each race and gender is being promoted up the management pipeline and, in effect, whether the corporate ecosystem has been successful in creating a more diverse workforce. By taking into account the percentages of minority employees in both management and the professional workforce, an EPI analysis is a more insightful metric than simply the percentage of executives or employees who are minorities.

The Ascend Foundation’s analysis shows that white men (with an EPI of 1.81) are by far the most-represented group in management; executive parity is a ratio of 1.0. Following them are Hispanic men (1.07), white women (0.65), black men (0.63), Asian men (0.56), Hispanic women (0.49), black women (0.30), and Asian women (0.24). (The EPI numbers are bleak for many of these groups, clearly, but in this article I’m most concerned with black men and women.)

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SOURCE: Michael Gee 
Harvard Business Review