Persistent glass ceiling

March 24, 1995

Progressive-minded viewers of the popular "Star Trek" series probably thought nothing of it when the latest Gene Roddenberry spin-off, "Star Trek: Voyager," debuted earlier this year with Kate Mulgrew in the role of Capt. Kathryn Janeway, the first female captain of a star ship. Ms. Mulgrew barked orders, faced down danger and reflected on the meaning of life with a gravity that would have made her male predecessors, Captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard, proud.

Alas, given the current pace of women's progress into the upper reaches of corporate management, it may well be the 24th century before a woman at the top becomes commonplace. A recent Labor Department report said that the so-called "glass ceiling" that blocks promotion of women and minorities into top management is still very much in place. "Progress has been disappointingly slow," and barriers to advancement persist, the department's Glass Ceiling Commission reported.

The commission found that 97 percent of the senior managers of Fortune 1000 industrial companies and Fortune 500 companies are white, and nearly all of them are men. In Fortune 2000 industrial and service companies, 5 percent of senior managers are women, virtually all of them white. Commenting on the report, Labor Secretary Robert Reich said persistent stereotyping of women and minorities, mistaken beliefs that they aren't qualified for management and decision-making posts and fear of change keep the glass ceiling in place, even though increasing numbers of corporate officers say they realize the need for diversity.

The report coincides with the emergence of affirmative action as a presidential campaign issue. GOP strategists see affirmative action as a "wedge issue" to woo white male voters in 1996. Republican hopefuls Sens. Robert Dole and Phil Gramm both have said they would pare down or abolish affirmative action if elected, prompting President Clinton to cover his political flanks by ordering a review of current programs. Meanwhile, women's groups have urged the president to stay the course, arguing that affirmative action has helped them as much as it has blacks and other minorities.

In the multicultural Star Trek world of the future, women and minorities have overcome the "glass ceiling" that blocks progress to the top. That was Mr. Roddenberry's vision of what he called "an optimistic future." Yet today it seems an awfully long way off. "Before one can even look at the glass ceiling, one must get through the front door and into the building," the commission report warned. "The fact is large numbers of minorities and women of all races and ethnicities are [still] nowhere near the front door of Corporate America."

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