Knowledge Center

Women of Color in Corporate Management: Opportunities and Barriers

This report, the third in Catalyst’s multi-phase study on opportunities and barriers for women of color in management, focuses on the first-hand experiences of women who identify themselves as African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American. The report assesses the current environment and describes corporate initiatives that reduce turnover and enhance mobility.

Impetus: At the time of this study, little was known about the unique perspectives and experiences of women of color in professional and managerial positions in corporate America. The purpose of this research was to educate corporate America about women of color in professional and managerial positions, to help improve retention and advancement of this important segment of the workforce.


  • Literature review.

  • More than 50 focus groups and 82 interviews with women-of-color managers, human resources professionals, and corporate leaders in 15 major companies.

  • Survey of 1,735 women in 30 Fortune 1000 companies.

  • Content analysis of diversity policies.

Findings: Among this study’s key findings, many diversity programs are not as effective as they could be or were intended to be for women-of-color managers: While three-quarters of the women of color surveyed are aware of training in their corporation to raise awareness about race and gender issues, only about one-fifth say their managers receive adequate training in managing a diverse workforce. Further, almost one-half of the respondents cite pervasive stereotypes of women of their racial/ethnic group in the work environment. More than one-half believe that corporate diversity programs are less than effective in dealing with issues of subtle racism. However, the more positively diversity policies are perceived by women of color, the more likely it is that the women will stay with their companies. Women of color who intend to stay with their employers are also more likely to have managers who: provide them with opportunities for visibility, explain/interpret organizational politics, and map out clear developmental goals for them.

Sponsors: The Ford Foundation; with matching funds from 18 companies (Avon Products Inc., BP Amoco p.l.c., Deloitte & Touche, Dow Chemical Co., E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company, Eastman Kodak Company, General Motors Corporation, Home Box Office, Hoechst Corporation, IBM Corporation, Levi Strauss, Mobil Corporation, Motorola Inc., Pitney Bowes Inc., The Proctor & Gamble Company, Sara Lee Corporation, Sears, Roebuck and Co., Xerox Corporation)