Efforts to shatter the “glass ceiling” that blocks women and minorities from the upper levels of corporate management are “disappointingly slow” even though most corporate chief executives say they believe the problem has been solved for women, according to the report of a bipartisan commission issued Wednesday.
The Glass Ceiling Commission, which spent three years studying the issue, noted that 97 percent of senior managers at Fortune 1000 industrial corporations are white males and only 5 percent of the top managers at Fortune 2000 industrial and service companies are women, virtually all of them white. In contrast, two-thirds of the overall population and 57 percent of the work force is female or a minority or both.
“Before one can even look at the glass ceiling, one must get through the front door and into the building,” the report said. “The fact is large numbers of minorities and women of all races and ethnicities are nowhere near the front door of corporate America.” The report added that members of all minority groups still are “disproportionately represented” among the working poor.
The commission said corporate chief executives said they thought the problem had been taken care of. “The overwhelming majority of CEOs interviewed … think of the glass ceiling as something that used to affect women - white and nonwhite - but that is no longer a real problem for them,” the report said.
“The world at the top of the corporate hierarchy still does not look anything like America,” said Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich, who is chairman of the commission. Reich called the commission findings “troubling, to say the least.”
The commission’s report comes as leading congressional Republicans - as well as some Democratic lawmakers - question whether the need for affirmative action in hiring and promotions has passed. President Clinton has ordered a review of all federal affirmative-action programs.
The commission, the first major government effort to break the glass ceiling, was launched by the Bush administration. Then-Labor Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole initiated the first government studies of the issue, targeting federal contractors regulated by her department.
Her husband, Senate Republican leader Robert J. Dole, Kan., who is now calling for a reassessment of affirmative action, pushed for the creation of the commission as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. At the time, Labor Department officials described the government’s glassceiling initiative as a “natural progression” in the evolution of women in the workplace.
A spokesman for the senator’s office said he would not comment on the report until he had read it.
Reich called the senator a “guiding light” for the report and proof that the push for affirmative action does not have to be partisan. Privately, however, Clinton administration officials said they did not expect the commission’s recommendations for government action, which are due by November, to be embraced by the Republican-controlled Congress.
The 21-member commission is made up of lawmakers, corporate executives and representatives of public-interest groups appointed by Congress and the Bush administration. Reich is chairman because he is the current labor secretary.
The commission said its research revealed three levels of “artificial barriers” to the advancement of minorities and women in corporate management that contradict “this nation’s ethic of individual worth and accountability - the belief that education, training, dedication and hard work will lead to a better life.” The three levels are:
Societal barriers that may be outside the control of business, such as restrictions on the supply of qualified women and minorities as the result of the nation’s education system. The commission also pointed to what it called the “difference barrier,” in which society stereotypes people according to gender, race or ethnicity.
Internal structural barriers that are in the direct control of business, such as recruitment policies and corporate cultures that alienate and isolate women and minorities and cluster them in jobs that are not on a career track to the top.
Governmental barriers, such as a lack of vigorous monitoring and law enforcement in the employment area as well as weaknesses in the data collected by the government to help identify problem areas.
The commission said it found that workers tend to be clustered in industries on the basis of sex more than race. Nearly 75 percent of working women, for example, are employed in service industries such as finance, insurance and real estate and the wholesale and retail trades, the study said.
Another potential barrier to advancement is the trend toward corporate downsizing that has taken place over the last decade, which tends to limit opportunities for all managers, the commission said.
Reich noted Wednesday that a lot of white, male managers in their 40s survived the downsizing when female and minority managers did not. These men, he said “came into the work force in the ‘60s and ‘70s just as the great wave of women entered the work force and the real significant wave of minorities began to graduate from college.”