'Glass ceiling' low for minorities, women, U.S. says

August 09, 1991|By Beth Hawkins | Beth Hawkins,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON -- Women and members of minority groups are being excluded from the corporate "pipelines" that lead to managerial and executive positions, according to the first major government study of the so-called "glass ceiling."

"The time has come to tear down, to dismantle, to remove and to shatter the glass ceiling," said Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin at a news con ference yesterday to introduce the Department of Labor study.

The barrier to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder exists at a much lower level than was previously believed, she said, and the careers of minorities reach a plateau earlier than those of women.

Women and minority group members are most frequently excluded from informal career-development activities such as "networking," "mentoring" and participation in policy-making committees. They are al so more likely to be placed in human resources and public relations jobs than in sales or production positions, which are often the "fast track" to management, the report noted.

Ms. Martin, who commissioned the yearlong pilot study of nine Fortune 500 corporations, said that the review was the government's first effort to analyze corporate biases that exclude women and minorities from jobs in which potential managers are traditionally groomed for advancement. The term "glass ceiling" was created to suggest an invisible, artificial barrier that minorities and women bump up against when trying to rise within the workplace.

The Labor Department says minorities do even worse than women. In a separate survey of 94 companies over the past three years, the department found that 6.6 percent of the top managers were women, but only 2.6 percent were minorities. This represents a slight improvement during the '80s, according to the department.

"The glass ceiling . . . deprives our economy of new leaders, new sources of creativity -- the would-be pioneers of the business world," Ms. Martin said. "If our end game is to compete successfully in today's global market, then we have to unleash the full potential of the American work force."

The report addresses issues of equity in promotion that are at the heart of the bitter fight over the civil rights bill. But Ms. Martin carefully tiptoed around the issue of quotas. She even avoided using the word "discrimination" to describe the report's findings.

"It shows that there are barriers," said Ms. Martin. "You can put whatever word on that." The glass ceiling, she said, is a more subtle problem than plain discrimination.

Patricia Ireland, executive vice president of the Washington-based National Organization for Women, said that the report merely confirmed the obvious. But, she said, "It adds some credibility and it gains attention for the issue."

"On the other hand," Ms. Ireland said, "I would rather see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission bring some class-action lawsuits to give corporations the warning that the law is being enforced even at the executive level."

An EEOC spokesman said the commission would have no comment on the report.

Patricia Taylor, president of Business and Professional Women USA, questioned Ms. Martin's reluctance to call the practices the report described discrimination.

"If 98 out of 100 U.S. senators were women, and if 98 out of 100 directors of Fortune 500 companies were women, I don't think the men in this country would stand for it," said Ms. Taylor. "I don't know how subtle that really is."

The nine companies used in the study, located throughout the United States, range in size from fewer than 8,000 employees to more than 300,000. Ms. Martin added that the companies chosen for survey were involved in activities including defense contracting, high-technology ventures and services.

Each of the employers surveyed had a level beyond which women and minorities have not advanced, the report found. The practices that effectively prevented their promotion -- many of which are said to be unconscious or invisible facets of corporate culture -- included:

* When seeking executives, companies neglect to make executive search companies aware of either their equal opportunity obligations as federal contractors or their desire that referrals be made from a diversified pool of applicants.

* Managers often choose and groom their own successors, just as in many instances managers chose the "high-potential" individuals to whom they would serve as mentors. Since the managers were white men, they tended to choose individuals like themselves.

* Affirmative action is usually the concern of the human resources department or of one personnel manager, who rarely hires at the executive level.

* Executives are often hired after a top manager learns of a qualified individual, perhaps interviews that person over lunch, and makes offers outside the formal recruiting process. Few corporations keep records of high-level recruiting and hiring practices.

* Employee performance evaluations differ: Minority employees evaluated by white male managers tend to have the poorest evaluations, while women's evaluations often include such appraisals as "happy," "friendly" and "gets along well with others." White men, meanwhile, are rated by performance.

* Most corporations track salary data, but not the distribution of "perks." Top employees are rewarded with stock, bonuses and other incentives. These fringe benefits go to white male executives and managers, in effect resulting in wage discrimination.

* Absence of women and minorities in "line positions" such as sales and production.

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