Glass ceiling remains a barrier, Labor report says

March 17, 1995|By Boston Globe

Despite almost three decades of affirmative action, the glass ceiling is still an impenetrable barrier to the advancement of women and minorities, a Labor Department report says.

Although women and minorities make up two-thirds of the nation's working population, the corporate hierarchy is overwhelmingly male and white, according to a federal Glass Ceiling Commission report released Wednesday.

The bipartisan commission reported that 97 percent of the senior managers at 1,500 industrial Fortune 1000 and Fortune 500 corporations are white and almost all of them are men. Only 5 percent of all Fortune 2000 industrial and service company managers are women, and virtually all are white, the report said.

"There is still evidence of discrimination in our society against minorities and women," said U.S. Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich, who chairs the 21-member commission. "In the present climate, we are going to have to make sure that all of our laws and regulations have the intention and effect of ensuring that those who hire and promote cast the net widely in hiring minorities and women."

The report comes at a time when affirmative action programs aimed at aiding women and minorities in the workplace are coming under fire from Republicans and Democrats. In recent weeks, the Clinton administration has shifted its support away from traditional affirmative action programs and toward a color-blind approach to federal policies. At a news conference recently, President Clinton suggested that one way to achieve equality would be to limit affirmative action to the poor rather than the current emphasis on women and racial minorities.

Asked Wednesday about affirmative action and the use of quotas, Mr. Reich replied: "We are not talking about quotas and preferences here, we are talking about goals and plans."

Called "Good for Business: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital," the study by the commission found that black men with professional degrees earn 79 percent of the salaries paid white men with the same jobs and degrees.

The report noted that a study of Stanford University graduates found that, more than a decade after graduation, men were eight times more likely to be corporate chief executive officers than were women.

And the commission noted that Asians are often sidetracked into technical jobs. Hispanics, meanwhile, face another stereotype: the view that they are uneducated and low-skilled. And blacks are still being blocked from decision-making positions.

Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, said the report might be helpful to Mr. Clinton, who has asked for a review of all federal affirmative action programs.

"Affirmative action is a carrot and a stick. It's a valuable tool to pry open the doors," Ms. Ireland said. "It's a means to an end."

The term "glass ceiling" was coined nine years ago after a Wall Street Journal column identified an invisible and impenetrable barrier to women aspiring to the executive suite.

In 1991, the Glass Ceiling Commission was established as part of the Civil Rights Act to study and recommend ways to eliminate barriers that prevent women and minorities from entering decision-making jobs. The commission is expected to release recommendations based on the report in November, when its charter expires.

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