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Advancement Opportunities Lacking, Say Corporate Women of Color

A new Catalyst study released today, Women of Color in Corporate Management: Dynamics of Career Advancement, reveals that women-of-color executives perceive formidable barriers to advancement that have not yet been addressed adequately by corporations. Women of color average 3.6 years in a job grade. While 57 percent of the women surveyed report they are satisfied with their jobs, only 34 percent are satisfied with their advancement opportunities. Given their current corporate environments, a quarter of the African-American women managers in the Catalyst survey indicate they do not intend to remain at their companies.

A previous Catalyst study, released last October, found women of color to be under-represented in the managerial workforce, comprising 23 percent of the U.S. female workforce, but only 15 percent of women in managerial positions in the private sector. Dynamics of Career Advancement, based on 57 focus groups, 82 in-depth interviews, and survey responses from over 1700 women-of-color managers, details the reasons for this under-representation.

The women-of-color survey participants indicate they lack access to influential colleagues at their organizations, and thus do not have the mentors and sponsors that are vital to advancement. Forty-seven percent of participants report lack of a mentor as a barrier to advancement, compared to 29 percent of white women executives in a1996 Catalyst survey. When they look upward, women of color have few role models of the same race and ethnic group to encourage them to remain. The women also report that their companies fail to assign them high visibility projects, recognized as an important advancement opportunity

Over 1,700 women-of-color managers responded to the Catalyst survey, the majority in mid-level positions, from a geographically and industrially diverse sample of Fortune 1000 companies. Median income is $67,200, median age is 40, over half have graduate degrees, and another 34 percent have undergraduate degrees. Sixty percent are married, and 46 percent have children under 18 living at home. Over half of respondents are African-American; one-quarter are Hispanic; and one quarter are Asian-American.

Catalyst President Sheila Wellington points out that "the women we surveyed are highly educated and believe themselves qualified to advance in corporations at the same rate as their colleagues. They find they're not moving up, so they tell us they are going to be moving out." States Katherine Giscombe, Ph.D., the project director, “Corporations need to become aware of the discontent among their talented women of color. Since at many of today's smartest companies, cutting turnover is a business priority, they need to make the changes necessary to retain their women of color." Wellington recommends that "since a lack of mentoring was identified as the primary barrier to advancement, as a remedy, companies should urgently consider a formal approach to mentoring for women of color.

"The Catalyst study also finds that women of color believe that affirmative action has opened doors at the beginning of their corporate careers. Fifty-four percent of African-American participants report that it helped them enter the corporate world, and 37 percent say it helped with promotions. This compares with 42 percent of Hispanics and 29 percent of Asian-Americans who perceive that it helped them at entry-level; and with 28 percent of Hispanics and 17 percent of Asian-Americans who report it helped them to advance. Of the women in general, 21 percent of African-Americans, 38 percent of Hispanics, and 48 percent of Asian-Americans say affirmative action had no impact on their careers.

Perhaps most significant for corporate America, the Catalyst study finds skepticism among women of color about their opportunities. Nearly forty percent of total respondents believe there's been no change in their chances for advancement in the past five years. Sixteen percent of African-American participants perceive a decrease in opportunities, compared to 10 percent of Hispanics and 6 percent of Asian-Americans.

Catalyst is the research and advisory organization that works with business to advance women. Women of Color in Corporate Management:Dynamics of Career Advancement is the second in a series of Catalyst studies on the topic; it was sponsored by the Ford Foundation.