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It could take 100 years for Black employees to catch up in corporate America, study finds

Black professionals face workplace bias
Black professionals face workplace bias 01:49

It could take almost 100 years for Black workers to be equally represented in leadership roles across corporate America compared with White employees.

That's the main takeaway of a recent McKinsey study that examined why many Black Americans aren't rising into the upper ranks of management. Researchers point to two major reasons. First, a disproportionate number of Black workers are in low-paying retail or food service jobs, which offer few pathways to promotion. Second, most Black Americans don't live in fast-growing U.S. cities, including current boomtowns such as Boise, Idaho; Provo, Utah; and Seattle.

Among all U.S. companies, Black Americans represent 7% of managers compared to 66% for Whites, 15% for Asian Americans and 8% for Hispanics, according to McKinsey, a corporate consulting firm that has looked extensively at racial inequities in employment. The percentage of Black Americans in senior roles, such as vice president and senior vice president, are even lower. 

According to the researchers, to redress the problem companies must create programs that identify promising Black workers and place them on a management track.

"You can't just hire a bunch of Black people at the front end of your company and just give it time and hope it works," said Monne Williams, one of the study's authors who researches executive team development for McKinsey. 

In the study, Williams and other researchers calculated the rate at which all ethnicities are promoted to higher level positions at work. Black Americans occupy 12% of entry-level jobs, but less than 7% of manager, senior manager, vice president, senior vice president and other executive-level roles. At the current rate of promotion for Black workers, McKinsey projects it would take 95 years for them to reach that same 12% in manager titles. 

Companies looking to nurture Black managers should consider opening new locations or expanding operations in the South or Northeast, Williams added, noting that a majority of the nation's roughly 15 million Black workers live in these two regions.

Stark disconnect

Helping more Black employees move up remains a complex challenge, and the reason Black managers are underrepresented varies from organization to organization, Williams said. 

Some employers are failing to identify Black employees with leadership potential, while other companies lack mentorship programs designed to put Black workers in a position to tackle higher-profile projects. Getting the chance to perform well on a large company initiative heightens a Black worker's chance at moving up the ranks, but those opportunities are few and far between, Williams said.

Group helps people of color reach C-suite job... 06:35

The study's results are particularly troubling because many Black Americans join a company with aspirations of climbing the corporate ladder, Williams said. 

"There is a pretty big disconnect with what people were hoping to see and what's the reality," she said. "We are not promoting as many [Black] people to manager as we should be."

"It hurts a lot"

The study findings are also concerning for Black college students who aspire to be corporate leaders one day. 

"For the most part, we are not the reason we can't get those high-paying jobs," said Jasmine Whitaker, a business administration major at Augusta University in Georgia. "It's a lot of political, socioeconomic, racial and educational factors that play into it, and it hurts a lot."

Malique Hawkins, a business management major at North Carolina A&T State University said he wants to be among the next generation of Black business leaders who can create opportunities for other employees of color. 

"This study simply motivates me to reach my goal of being a leader and innovator in the corporate world," Hawkins said. "Once more of us get into those positions of leadership, we will be able to help others that come after us do the same."

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