Exclusion in the Corner Office

October 12, 1991

The routine exclusion of blacks from the region's corporate power structure continues. A year-long study released last month by the Investing in Baltimore Committee, a non-profit business group, pegs the number of black managers in the Baltimore metropolitan area at about 5 percent. That compares with 14 percent for whites.

This report contains few surprises. It confirms the absence of black players in the upper echelons of management. In doing so, it refutes the fantasy that equal opportunity has translated into anything but the status quo in the corner offices and board rooms of the region's largest companies. To their credit, many corporations are doing a better job of recruiting blacks. But most of these hires are shunted into personnel and public relations -- tracks that rarely lead to the executive suite.

Underlying the sparsity of black managers here and elsewhere are disturbing assumptions and attitudes among corporate gatekeepers. Many cite a dearth of qualified blacks. Others are oblivious to what often keeps blacks out of top-level jobs -- exclusion from the subtle, but important, social rituals that pave the way to upper management. Some insist that no problem exists.

This kind of thinking is ludicrously short-sighted. Diversity in the workplace is less social issue than demographic reality. The face of American industry is evolving from one dominated by white males to one increasingly peopled by women and minorities. Yet the pace of change is tortuously slow. The IBC report brings into focus the dearth of minorities in top jobs throughout the region. It defines the challenge and answers those who choose to believe discrimination is yesterday's problem.

Much depends on what happens next. Robert Keller, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, terms the numbers in the study "horrific" and vows to "explore responses" to the problem.

Nonetheless, the danger exists that this report, like the problem it identifies, will be ignored. That's why the IBC should see to it that this kind of an assessment is made on a regular basis -- perhaps annually. IBC can do little to force the issue of black participation in management. It can, however, see to it that the issue is kept alive.

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