Civil Rights Monitor


Women and minorities make up two-thirds of the population and 57 percent of the workforce yet account for only 3 percent of senior management positions at Fortune 1000 industrial corporations, according to a report released by the bipartisan Federal Glass Ceiling Commission. The findings suggest that although some progress has been made in recent years, proactive efforts are still needed to address the invisible but impenetrable barrier that continues to deprive women and minorities of access to the high est levels of the business world regardless of their accomplishments or merit. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who chaired the Commission, summed it up by stating, «In short, the fact-finding report tells us that the corporate hierarchy does not y et look anything like America.»

The report entitled «Good For Business: Making Full Use of the Nation’s Capital» is the result of three years of study that included a consortium of consultants, commission hearings, studies, interviews, focus groups, panel discussions, and revi ew of public and private research. The commission concluded that:

«in the private sector, equally qualified and similarly situated citizens are being denied equal access to advancement into senior-level management on the basis of gender, race or ethnicity. At the highest levels of corporations the promise of rewar d for preparation and pursuit of excellence is not equally available to members of all groups. Furthermore, it is against the best interests of business to exclude those Americans who constitute two-thirds of the total population, two-thirds of the consu mer markets, and more than half of the workforce. the current state of affairs is not good for business. shattering the glass ceiling both serves our national values and makes our business stronger.»

Some corporate leaders interviewed by the Commission said that as their trading partners become more globalized and diverse, there is a growing need for their workforces to reflect the diversity of the market-place in order to succeed in this increasingl y competitive environment.

The report identified three levels of barriers that need to be eliminated to allow women and minorities to gain equal access to executive suites. They are societal barriers, which may be outside the direct control of business, internal structural barrie rs that are within the direct control of business, and governmental barriers.

The two societal barriers noted include the supply barrier and the difference barrier. The «supply barrier» refers to the lack of qualified women and minorities because of inequities in the nation’s educational system. The report notes that al though corporations cannot lead a movement to reform the nation’s schools, they can be strong advocates for excellent schools by participating in initiatives such as school-to-work and internships as well as providing scholarships. The «difference b arrier» refers to the stereotypes, prejudices, and biases that individuals harbor about cultural, gender, or racial differences. The report states that «of all the barriers to corporate advancement identified, it is prejudice that tops the list .»

The «internal business barriers» concern the difference between what corporate leadership says it wants to happen and what is actually happening. The underlying cause of this discrepancy stems from the perception of many white males that they a re «losing the corporate game, losing control, and losing opportunity.» The report noted, «Many middle- and upper-level white male managers view the inclusion of minorities and women in management as a direct threat to their own chances fo r advancement.» Internal structural barriers, such as recruitment policies and the corporate climate, further contribute to the persistence of the glass ceiling. The report states that many executives hire only people who are most like themselves c ulturally and ethnically and are not willing as they see it «to risk» hiring minorities unless their clients demand increases in minority hiring.

«Government barriers» that affect the glass ceiling include the lack of vigorous and consistent monitoring and law enforcement; weaknesses in the collection and disaggregation of employment-related data; and inadequate reporting and disseminatio n of information relevant to glass ceiling issues. Research presented to the Commission clearly demonstrates the weakness of relying on voluntary measures to address employment discrimination. The report noted, «When the threat of enforcement is no t real, the contract compliance program [Office of Contract Compliance Programs which monitors the Executive Order on Affirmative Action] ceases to have any demonstrable positive effect on minority and female employment.»

The report also notes the disproportionate concentration of all minority groups in jobs outside the corporate world: «Before one can even look at the Glass Ceiling, one must get through the front door and into the building. The fact is large number s of minorities and women of all races and ethnicities are nowhere near the front door of Corporate America.»

In addition to finding that women and minorities are disproportionately represented in working class jobs where mobility is virtually nonexistent, the report also found that even in instances when they do shatter the ceiling, the compensation minorities a nd women receive is lower. For example, African American men with professional degrees earn only 79 percent of the amount earned by white males who hold the same degrees and are in the same job categories.

The history of the Glass Ceiling Commission dates back to 1986 when the Wall Street Journal reported a pattern of highly accomplished women being passed over for upper-level promotions due to an invisible barrier. The term was immediately picked u p by other journalists and policy makers and was extended to include racial minorities who experienced a similar barrier. The Department of Labor, under the leadership of Secretary Elizabeth Dole and her successor Secretary Lynn Martin, issued a Repor t on the Glass Ceiling Initiative in 1991. In supporting the findings of the 1991 report, Senator Robert Dole introduced the Glass Ceiling Act of 1991, to establish the Glass Ceiling Commission to study «how business filled management and decisi on-making positions, the developmental and skill-enhancing practices used to foster qualifications for advancement, and the pay and reward structures used in the workplace.» The Act eventually was enacted into law as Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. At the time Senator Dole noted, «For this Senator, the issue boils down to ensuring equal access and equal opportunity.»

Interestingly, the latest report comes at a time when some Congressional Republicans have vowed to eliminate affirmative action. Supporters of affirmative action contend that this study clearly shows affirmative action is still needed. Others, however, include Senator Dole who despite his introduction of the legislation to establish the Glass Ceiling Commission, seemingly disagrees about the continued need for affirmative action policies. The Senate Majority Leader has ordered a congressional report on all government affirmative action programs, asked for congressional hearings on the subject, and stated on the Senate floor that it is his intention «to introduce legislation later this year that will force the Federal Government to live up to the c olor-blind ideal by prohibiting it from granting preferential treatment to any person, simply because of his or her membership in a certain favored group.» The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission’s specific recommendations for government action are due in November.

Printed copies of the report are available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, (202) 783-3238, and its regional bookstores.

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