December 12, 2000, 3:34 PM — "I have seen in certain situations, although the [white executives] try to
disguise it, African American men and women and other minorities being dealt a little
harsher treatment. I know they're held to different standards. I've seen two people
with the same sales quotas, and all sorts of excuses were given for the nonminority not
making his numbers, but when it came to the minority, they're saying "You should make
that number.' Yet he was given the worst territory out there."
-- Anonymous Senior IT Executive
Perhaps you think the scene described above took place decades ago, before the
Supreme Court, Congress and the civil rights movement began to hammer away at the
foundations of racism in our society. Wrong.
There's no way, you whisper, that could happen today in my company. Wrong.
Maybe you shift uneasily in your chair, having observed or heard about that sort of
racial incident at one time in your career. It made you uncomfortable, even outraged,
but then your third afternoon meeting came up and you were flying out of town the next
morning, so it gradually faded.
Fortunately, egregious examples of racial prejudice in the workplace are much less
common than they were 20 or 30 years ago. By all counts, companies are making
commendable efforts to diversify and rid their workplaces of blatant discrimination.
Midlevel minority executives populate the corporate landscape today in increasing
But the color of one's skin all too often plays a role in who gets promoted to
The numbers are shocking -- in a country where African Americans make up 12.9
percent of the population, they make up less than 2.5 percent of senior-level managers
in the private sector. But perhaps just as surprising are the barriers that still exist
in corporate America, more than three decades after the Civil Rights Act of 1964
outlawed racial discrimination in the workplace. That was a milestone in the civil
rights movement, and gave minorities a stepping stone by which they slowly gained entry
into the house that white corporate America built. But it didn't put an end to the de
facto segregation that still makes it difficult for blacks and other groups to gain
true equality with whites, especially in management.
Sometimes the glass ceiling that blocks minorities from becoming senior-level
executives appears practically invisible. Other times the obstacles to upward mobility
rear their ugly heads in the form of slights, racial jokes and unfair practices that
should make anyone reading this article cringe. If you're one of those white
executives, maybe you'll take a look at a snapshot of your own senior-level officers
and ask yourself: What's wrong with this picture?