How to Overcome Racial Barriers Climbing the Corporate Ladder

The economic downturn that has occurred over the last five years has disproportionately affected employment in minority communities.  While the most recent national unemployment figures show nationwide unemployment at 7.5 percent, for African-Americans this figure is much higher at 13.2 percent.  But high unemployment rates aren’t the only consequence of the recession.  Another significant consequence is that companies have been forced to scale back on their diversity programs.  This is evidenced by the fact that only slightly more than 1 percent of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies have African-American chief executives and at the nation’s largest companies, African-Americans occupy only 3.2 percent of senior executive positions.

These statistics force the question, are corporate diversity officers still relevant in today’s workforce?  And, if success is measured by examining how much progress blacks have made with regards to integrating into sought-after professions, then what does this say about the efficacy of current corporate diversity efforts?

According to the recent New York Times article, Racial Diversity Efforts Ebb for Elite Careers, Analysis Finds, the recession has affected diversity efforts across many fields. The Conference Board, a business membership and research organization, asked senior executives how the downturn was affecting their decisions.  They ranked as a low priority, “achieving diversity and representation in the cross-cultural work force.”

Steps to Overcome Racial Barriers

So how can a minority candidate overcome these challenges?  Texas lawyers who were interviewed for the article cited some simple steps.  They determined that social relationships played a big role in determining who was on the partner track.  If candidates or employees can build personal relationships with people within the company, they found that they had a greater likelihood of advancing up the corporate ladder.  Relationships built on shared rituals, such as golf or sharing dinner goes a long way towards building strong ties.  Another suggestion was to seek out advocates and mentors within an organization.  Mentors and advocates have the ability to bring people on to projects and keep them in the forefront of those who hire and make decisions.

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