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Catalyst Finds Women Of Color Are Taking Charge Of Their Careers and Moving Up The Corporate Ladder

Many women of color are taking charge of their careers, networking, finding mentors and moving up the corporate ladder as a result. Improved career strategies and accompanying success is the theme of the new Catalyst study, Women of Color in Corporate Management: Three Years Later, the first longitudinal look at the experiences of women of color in the workplace.

In a study of 368 women over a three-year period between 1998 and 2001, Catalyst finds that 57 percent have been promoted and overall income is up 37 percent.

Building on Catalyst’s groundbreaking research on women of color in corporate management, Catalyst tracked a core group of women of color managers over the past three years to chart their career movement and outline their steps to success. Although current job and career satisfaction is high, these women do perceive a decline in opportunities to advance to senior leadership and are less satisfied with their prospects for further advancement at their current employer.

“The women in this study are clearly taking charge of their careers,” Catalyst President Sheila Wellington said. “This is a call to action to companies. These women know the value they bring to organizations and if their current employers fall short, many are willing to find employers that are actively working to create workplaces where their contributions will be valued.”
Citing greater advancement opportunities and pay as their primary reasons for leaving, the women who left their 1998employers are likely to have more senior titles, more promotions, and higher earnings than their counterparts who didn’t switch employers. What’s more, those who left report the existence of fewer barriers in their new environments.

There is a marked increase in the number of women who have developed mentor relationships since 1998. Over half (58%) now report having a mentor, up from 38 percent in 1998. Sixty-two percent of African-American women have mentors, 51 percent of Asian-American women and 52 percent of Latinas. 

“Mentorship is critical to advancement,” Wellington said. “Seven out of ten women of color who had a mentor in 1998 have since had a promotion. What’s more, Catalyst found that the more mentors a woman has, the faster she moves up the corporate ladder.” 

About half the women have a mentor several job levels above their own, while 10 percent consider a peer to be a mentor. Of the women’s mentors, 35 percent are white men, 19 percent are men of color, and 21 percent are white women and 25 percent are women of color. 

Women who hold top jobs in their organizations are few and far between. Currently, women of color comprise a mere 1.3 percent of corporate officers in 400 of the Fortune 500, according to 2000 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners.

To capture the talent and loyalty of these women, Catalyst recommends companies increase the openness of work environments, publicly commit to diversity, become more inclusive, and emphasize the credibility and authority of women of color, among other things. It is critical to create an environment where differences in background are not only recognized and accepted, but valued and where performance measures focus on productivity and skill. 

“There are many companies that have initiatives that look good in writing, but unless the organization instills diversity into its business culture, including it in every decision, diversity initiatives are not going to be successful," said Katherine Giscombe, senior director of research at Catalyst. 

This study was sponsored by McDonald’s Corporation, The Gillette Company, Goldman Sachs & Co. and IBM Corporation.

Background on Catalyst’s series on Women of Color in Corporate Management:

In Women of Color in Corporate Management: Opportunities and Barriers, released in 1999, Catalyst received responses from over 1,700 women of color managers and professionals. In this groundbreaking study, Catalyst identified the top barriers to advancement for these women: not having an influential mentor, lack of informal networking, lack of role models who are members of their racial/ethnic group, and lack of high visibility assignments. (For more information on that report, please see the media kit on our web site.) Catalyst previously published Women of Color in Corporate Management: Dynamics of Career Advancement (1998) and Women of Color in Corporate Management: A Statistical Picture (1997). 

Catalyst is the nonprofit research and advisory services organization working to advance women in business, with offices in New York, San Jose, and Toronto. The leading source of information on women in business for the past four decades, Catalyst has the knowledge and tools that help companies and women maximize their potential. Our solutions-oriented approach – through Research, Advisory Services, Corporate Board Placement, and the Catalyst Award – has earned the confidence of global business leaders. The American Institute of Philanthropy consistently ranks Catalyst number one among U.S. nonprofits focused on women’s issues.