Friday, January 18, 2019

The Executive Suite: What’s Blocking So Many Black Men from It?

January 7, 2018 by  
Filed under Business, Education, Money, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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(ThyBlackMan.comAlthough many Americans like to think that there is more equality than there has ever been before, and although in some instances this might actually be true, we are still far from having total equality between the races in this country in many areas. The gulf between white and black is arguably never more evident than it is in the prison system where around 37 percent of inmates are African-American, despite making up just over 12 percent of the population as a whole. However, there is another area in life where the gulf is extremely evident – the executive suite.

You’d think that in 2018, when we’re all so much more enlightened and seemingly more people than ever are concerned about fairness and equality that we wouldn’t have to worry about black men (and women for that matter) being well represented in the higher echelons of corporate American, but sadly that just is not the case.

Fortune 500

As of 2016, there had only ever been 15 CEOS who were African-American in the whole history of the Fortune 500. When you think about how many CEOs there have been in charge of the top 500 countries in the world, and how many corporations have been involved in it since it was first published way back in 1955, that’s an extremely- although sadly not surprising- for those of us in the know, statistic, especially when you consider that out of those 15, only 5 (there are now 4) were in the role when the data was taken! That’s just five black CEOs out of 500! Perhaps even more shocking to some, only one of those five was a woman – Ursula Burns – the CEO if Xeros.

Another statistic that is sure to shock you is the fact that only 4.7 percent of executive team members who are black make up the Fortune 100 – that’s a pretty miniscule amount, especially when you consider that that number has remained largely unchanged since 2011. Combine this with the fact that only 6.7 percent of America’s management jobs, of which there are more than 16 million, are held by African-Americans, and well the picture becomes more than clear!


As you can see, the statistics are shocking, so it is not at all surprising that the average  black executive feels somewhat frustrated that no matter how hard they work and how dedicated they are to climbing the corporate ladder, it is clear that, quite often they are being passed over for promotion, at least partly due to the color of their skin.

Hard to Identify

Unfortunately, the exact reasons why black executives are failing to make it to the top of the ladder despite all of their hard work is still pretty hard to identify. Things like perceived education levels, whether they’ve attended a great college or successfully completed an online postgraduate courses, prejudices that have been around for all time, and even unconscious perceptions of white colleagues who may not even realize they’re discriminatory all seem to play a role, but is that the whole story?

Pressure to Represent

Some black men in the corporate world, when interviewed by Forbes told reporters that they felt like they had two jobs in the workplace: their official role and the role of an African-American. They basically felt like they had to act like an ambassador for their whole race, rather than just getting on with their own work like all of the white people in their office were able to do without even thinking. For example, whenever there was a diversity fair or some kind of event where it was important for their companies to show how ‘diverse’ they were, they would be expected to attend, even if it meant that they would have to stop working on that important project for a while. With stuff like this happening, it’s easy to see how a black man could end up at the back of the queue for promotion even though they might be the most deserving.

Breaking Stereotypes

In a similar vein, many of the men interviewed mentioned that they constantly had to be on guard worrying about the various stereotypes that have been cast upon black men for centuries. For example, they wanted to ensure that they dressed well, but if they were dressed too showy, would that work against them? If they’re having a bad day and look a bit angry, will that make people think that they’re aggressive? These are things that most men in the corporate office wouldn’t even have cross their mind, let alone spend time worrying over, but many black men feel that they have to and they might just have a point if the above stats are anything to go by.


Another issue that African-American males have to deal with on their way to the executive suite is the resentment that many of their colleagues and even superiors have in regards to minority recruitment and positive discrimination. A lot of people look upon things like bias training and recruiting from minorities as unfair. They believe that the best person should get the job and often think that the black man who was just hired must only be there because of the color of his skin. They are, of course, wrong and just because the company has taken steps to diversify their employee base does not in any way mean that they have not hired someone who is completely capable for the role, but many persist in not seeing things that way and this can hamper progress. After all, if even a few of one’s superior things of you as a token hire, then they’re probably not going to put you forward for a promotion.  Of course, some would argue that the black employee could prove them wrong by doing a really good job, but it seems that prejudices are often very hard to overcome and that doesn’t always work out so well in practice.

Diversity Training

This kind of thing is very shocking given the fact that several billions of dollars have been spent on corporate diversity changing in the past fifteen years, with companies like Intel investing several  millions of dollars of their own money to try and improve both racial and gender diversity in their own company – and that’s just one example. There’s no denying that this is a positive step, but unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that these best practices simply aren’t anywhere near as effective as they need to be to open up more of the country’s top roles to African-Americans.

For example, a study that was conducted jointly by Berkeley, Harvard and the Universities of California and Minnesota from 1971 to 2002 found that these practices have no lasting impact in the favor of black employees, while similar studies show that white employees, as mentioned earlier, tend to be annoyed at best by diversity programs, often causing them to feel that they themselves have not been treated fairly by their employers. This is true even of many employees who were all for diversity initially. This leads to a weird Catch-22 situation where companies know that they’re workplaces are not diverse enough, but if they try to solve the problem, not only is it not effective, but it quite often alienates their existing employees too!


Another problem that prevents black men from climbing the ladder is out and out discrimination. There are, for example, stories of black men being targeted by workplace security officers for regular pat-downs for no other reason than they’re black, and of course, racism often rears its ugly face at some point down the line. After all, it only takes one racist exec to stemmy the career of an aspiration black man or woman in his or her tracks.

The Unknown

Another problem is ‘fear of the unknown.’ So many CEOS and execs are and have always been white men, and although they may not have any inherent prejudices against blacks, they often find themselves not knowing how to relate to people from other backgrounds with other experiences. This can make them pretty reluctant to promote a minority.

As you can see, there are many reasons why black men and women are being kept out of the executive suite, and some of them are so ingrained that it is difficult to see how we can progress against it. However, arguably the best thing any black person looking to climb the corporate ladder can do is be themselves. Keep being the brilliant, talented people you all are, keep voicing those injustices you see and show the world exactly what you are capable of. If you do that, then why wouldn’t any executive want to have you? There is absolutely no one who can deny that having more black men and women in the executive suite would only ever be a good thing. After all. New, diverse ideas and perspectives are what keeps the business world turning (or at least it should be).

Staff Writer; Ronald Poole

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