Black executives few, far between Qualified individuals strive for recognition

October 27, 1991|By Blair S. Walker

With Harvard University and middle-management experience burnishing his resume, George C. Chainey figured that finding an executive-level job in Baltimore would be a snap.

After all, it was 1982, the economy was booming and managers with MBAs -- particularly from Ivy League schools -- were in demand.

Mr. Chainey was dead wrong.

None of the city's corporate elite, including Alex. Brown & Sons Inc., McCormick & Co. and Black & Decker Corp., would hire him for a marketing position, Mr. Chainey recalled recently.

The abortive job hunt was a turning point for Mr. Chainey, a black Baltimore native who attended Gilman School. Not long afterward, he founded Digitron Executive Search and Research, a city-based "headhunting" firm that specializes in management-caliber women and minorities.

Today, he says, blacks still have a tough time landing executive-level jobs here. "There are so many super-qualified individuals of color who aren't earning what their degrees and experience dictate that it's deplorable," said Mr. Chainey, 36.

The problem was highlighted in a study released last month by the Investing in Baltimore Committee Inc., a non-profit business organization, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black Washington think tank.

It showed that among black workers in the Baltimore-area work force, only 4.2 percent were managers in 1988. The figure puts the region below the national average of 4.5 percent.

Among white workers in the local work force, the percentage of those who were managers was 14 percent.

For professional positions, Baltimore-area blacks were at 5.1 percent, slightly above the national average of 5 percent. Among white workers, 18 percent were professionals.

The problem isn't confined to the Baltimore metropolitan area, which is 26 percent black. In a recent Labor Department study of executives at nine Fortune 500 companies, only 2.6 percent were minorities; among managers, 6 percent were minorities. And a Census Bureau report said that black male executives earn about one-third less than their white male counterparts.

Making the effort

Richard C. Clarke, a Manhattan headhunter, says moving blacks into management positions isn't hard for firms committed to the task.

Most companies haven't been active in the communities from which they want to recruit minorities, said Mr. Clarke, whose Richard Clarke Associates Inc. has been in the business of minority executive recruitment for 34 years. "You can't leave Hunt Valley and then come downtown and say: 'I'd hire a qualified minority if I could find one.'

"Those people are not to be found on the playing fields of those executives," he said. "You don't find them on the golf courses, you don't find them at the fox hunts, and you don't find them on the tennis courts, even though tennis has become a more proletarian game than it used to be."

Carole Y. Lyles, an administrator with the Johns Hopkins University, has been frustrated in her efforts to increase the number of black executives.

She directed the Executive Accelerated Leadership Training Program (EXALT), a two-year Hopkins program for promising minority business people that culminated in a master's degree. In 1989, Hopkins scrapped the program, which called on companies to sponsor participants, because only a handful of companies got involved.

EXALT was replaced by the Leadership Development Program, a successful 2-year-old program Ms. Lyles now runs that doesn't call for sponsorship.

Only three local companies -- Maryland National Bank, Maryland Casualty and Monumental General -- are sponsoring participants the current class, Ms. Lyles said.

"My conversations with Baltimore-based companies typically focus on the problem that they simply don't have anyone at even midlevel to nominate," she said. "I feel very strongly that a pool is available that companies are simply choosing to ignore."

The IBC report singled out banking as an area where black progress was practically non-existent. Meager gains were noted the retail, finance, insurance and real estate areas.

That's not to say things are totally bleak -- there have been success stories.

One is Edward Hitchcock, a partner with Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman, one of Baltimore's largest law firms. Mr. Hitchcock was recently elevated to a position on Frank, Bernstein's 13-member management team.

He would like to see greater numbers of black executives, but doesn't hold out much hope.

"These people in these corporations aren't really the ogres that people make them out to be, but like anything else in business, there are priorities," Mr. Hitchcock said. "Until something or some outside force forces this issue to become a top priority in the corporate thought process, there's no incentive to do it.

"It has to be an issue that results in it being good business to hire and promote minorities, as opposed to it being a social experiment or a social requirement that you hire minorities."

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