With an African-American serving as the nation's chief executive, a woman heading the
Plenty of them.
Though blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians represent roughly 30 percent of the population, they fill only 3 percent of senior management positions at American corporations and nonprofits, according to Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a minority recruitment and development group. Just 15 Fortune 500 companies are led by women. Even fewer have black CEOs. And while blacks and Hispanics generally constitute 5 to 10 percent of a big law firm's first-year associates, they account for around 2 percent of those firms' partners, according to
But more and more employers are working to change that. They're partnering with minority recruitment specialists who offer assistance with grooming minority professionals for leadership roles. Top business schools are following suit, putting more minorities on leadership tracks. And more private- and public-sector employers are adopting internal strategies for getting minorities into senior roles. The number of companies applying to be in DiversityInc. magazine's annual "Top 50 Companies for Diversity" rankings--for which minority representation in management is a key criterion--has more than tripled in four years, to over 400. "Most companies have realized that mathematically, they cannot have the best talent available if minorities aren't represented," says
Which means that corporations working to narrow the minority leadership gap aren't acting out of some impulse toward social justice; they're trying to improve their bottom line. But maintaining diverse workforces has proved a challenge. A recent report by the recruiting firm
A shortage of minority leaders is a big part of the problem. Minority employees don't want to stick with companies where the top jobs appear to be off limits to them. "If blacks and Latinos and women are looking up the food chain and they don't see people who look like them at the top, why would they stay?" asks Visconti.
Even for employers striving to fill more top jobs with minorities, however, the process is almost always slow. Experts who've studied the minority leadership gap say it's due less to overt racism than to unconscious employer biases and entrenched networks and habits. "The undermining often starts very early in a career," says
Biases about who's qualified for the top jobs can also keep midcareer minorities and women from being plucked for those posts. With few minorities in upper management, it can be difficult for employers to picture them there. "We see it as more a sticky floor than a glass ceiling," says
Working moms often face even longer odds in landing senior positions because family commitments can keep them from investing as much in their jobs as male colleagues--or create that perception even when it's not the case. And women who return to work after taking time off to raise kids can find themselves far behind male peers.
Though more women than men have earned bachelor's and master's degrees since the 1980s--and now earn a third of all M.B.A.'s--the gender gap in leadership positions hasn't closed much since then. Women hold just 16 percent of corporate officer positions and constitute about 6 percent of top earners at Fortune 500 companies, according to a recent analysis by Catalyst, a nonprofit group working to expand business opportunities for women.
Another reason for the gap is that male executives tend to promote their own, despite a management trend toward strategies more associated with female leaders, like collaboration and relationship building. And those very qualities can help keep women from breaking through to top jobs. "When a little girl on the soccer team says, 'I'm the best,' other girls will say she's bossy and bragging," says
Those are the kinds of skills that programs like the
In addition to mentoring midcareer professionals, MLT has partnered with more than 30 leading business schools, where minority enrollment hovers around 8 percent, to recruit and train African-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians for leadership roles. The 18-month program for M.B.A. candidates includes five boot camps to teach the so-called key ingredients. Almost 40 percent of minority M.B.A. candidates currently enrolled at
A cottage industry of similar minority-focused talent recruitment and development organizations has sprung up since the 1990s, marking a dramatic shift in approach from post-civil-rights-era initiatives that focused on using the legal system to gain access to professional opportunities for minorities. "The challenge today," says Rice, "is meeting the very high bar those firms set with a supply of minority candidates with the skills to clear it."
Contemporary examples of strong crisis leadership are in surprisingly short supply, experts say. And all too often, the reaction to a crisis is to hunker down and ride it out. But there are a few modern standouts, especially in the business world.
The New Orleans masses who huddled in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, the Enron retirees who lost their life savings, and the laid-off workers buried under the economic ruin of financial companies all live with a simple truth. Just as spectacularly as great leadership can spark success, failed leadership can bring down cities, businesses, and economies
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