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Why so many black business professionals are missing from the C-suite

Blacks miss out on top jobs in U.S. companies
New study suggests there aren't enough blacks in top executive positions 01:17

Despite spending millions on corporate diversity efforts, U.S. companies aren't retaining black professionals or promoting them to top positions, causing many of those workers to walk out the doors in frustration, according to a new report.

Black people account for about 12% of the U.S. population, but occupy only 3.2% of the senior leadership roles at large companies in the U.S. and just 0.8% of all Fortune 500 CEO positions, according to the analysis by the Center for Talent Innovation, a workplace think tank in New York City.

The study was funded by Disney, Pfizer and other major corporate players. Its conclusions were drawn from a survey conducted online and via telephone in June of more than 3,700 people who work in white-collar jobs and have at least a bachelor's degree.    

About 65% of blacks in the study said they have to work harder to advance, compared with only 16% of white employees.

"We hope that business leaders will respond to these findings by making a serious assessment of their own workplaces and creating a comprehensive plan of action," Pat Fili-Krushel, the center's CEO, said in a statement. "We are especially concerned about the lack of awareness we discovered among white professionals."

Black female entrepreneurs look for ways to improve diversity in Silicon Valley 08:12

Perhaps the best way to enhance career opportunities for African-Americans, the study suggests, is for more companies to introduce bias training for managers, implement clear consistent standards for promotions and hire decision-makers who are committed to diversity. Companies must also create a diversity hiring strategy specifically for black employees.

The center's study comes at a time when America continues to lose black CEOs and companies are spending millions of dollars trying to diversify their staff, often to little avail. In 2012, there were six black Fortune 500 CEOs. Today there are three: Kenneth Frazier of Merck, Roger Ferguson of TIAA and Marvin Ellison of home improvement giant Lowe's.

"It's embarrassing because there are thousands of black people who are just as qualified or more qualified than I am who deserve the opportunity, but haven't been given the opportunity,"  retired American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault told the researchers behind the study. 

Ken Chenault
Former American Express CEO Ken Chenault said "there are thousands of black people who are just as qualified or more qualified than I am," commenting on a report that found that less than 1% of Fortune 500 companies are led by an African-American CEO. CBS News

Although there is little research on how much companies spend on diversity recruitment in total, individual companies like Google and Intel report spending hundreds of millions annually to diversify their staff.

One reason black professionals are struggling to scale the corporate ladder, according to the study: a lack of face time with senior leaders, which hinders building personal relationships with those within a company who oversee promotions. About 20% of black respondents said they don't feel someone of their race could ever gain the top position at their company.

The lack of promotions are causing black employees to change jobs more frequently. More than one-third of black respondents said they plan to leave their company within two years, as opposed to 27% of whites.

"Companies are missing out on amazing talent at the top of their organizations, and black professionals are not given the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations,"  Julia Kennedy, the center's executive vice president, said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story listed Marvin Ellison as CEO of J.C. Penney. He is the CEO of Lowe's Companies. This story has been updated to correct Ellison's new title. 

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