Hitting The Concrete Ceiling

Aurora Flores started out trying to climb the corporate ladder, but to find the success she wanted, she had to leave Madison Avenue and start her own public relations business, Aurora Communications.

"Management hires you as a token," she says, "and as a token, there's no real good will in terms of promoting you up."

The glass ceiling didn't drive her out, reports CBS News Correspondent Jacqueline Adams. Instead, it was what she calls the "concrete ceiling." Add to that a "sticky floor" keeping minority women down.

"They get passed over for white men and white women," Flores says. "So that sticky floor doesn't even let us move to hit that concrete ceiling."

For years, corporations have been able to dismiss minorities' complaints as isolated instances or sour grapes. Now, though, a massive study conducted by Catalyst has confirmed that the concrete ceiling does exist, and it's hurting the corporations.

The three-year study surveyed 1,735 women of color in 30 companies, and the results were striking. Fifty-three percent believe that corporate diversity programs fail to address subtle racism in the workplace. And only 18 percent said their managers are rewarded for achieving diversity goals.

"It's not about a memo every Black History Month. It's got to be real. There's got to be accountability," says Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst.

Catalyst's study found that the real cost of the concrete ceiling is the cost of retraining, since 25 percent of the women surveyed said they planned to leave their companies within a year.

"Women of color are pleased that they're being hired, but a very small percentage of them, only 38 percent, are pleased about their chances for advancement," says Wellington.

Diversity is no longer just a noble goal. In today's tight labor market, experts say hiring and retraining minority women are increasingly becoming necessities.

But some minority business owners say the very rules intended to help them compete with other companies are actually holding them back, reports CBS MarketWatch Correspondent Stacey Tisdale.

Jon Barfield is the CEO of the Bartech Group, a $100-million company that provides high-tech workers to some of the largest corporations in America. Despite his company's success, Barfield says his business is at a major disadvantage.

"We don't have access to the same financing techniques and tools with which to grow," says Barfield.

Minorities must own 51 percent of a company for it to be certified as minority owned. They say that restricts them from taking on investors with big money. So, Barfield supports a controversial rule change reducing that ownership requirement to as low as 30 percent.

"This rule change will make it easier for us to play on a level playing field with other corporations," he says.

But some smaller minority-owned firms disagree.

"I think that will make the ricricher and create a two-class system," says Scott Flores, CEO of Die Cut Technologies.

"The whole theory behind this was to create wealth amongst the minority community," he says, "and for institutional investors to be taking home 70 percent of the profits, I don't think is appropriate."