Black Managers Hit Glass Ceiling in Diversifying American Workplace

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Cover page from a 1977 EEOC report on racial diversity in the workplace.

EEOC

Cover page from a 1977 EEOC report on racial diversity in the workplace.

When the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began operating on July 2, 1965, it instantly had a backlog of 1,000 complaints. According to the agency’s official history, planners expected the EEOC to handle 2,000 cases in its first year; in the end, more than four times that number came in.

Five decades later the American workforce bears little resemblance to the one at work when the EEOC was born. In 1966, less than one percent of managers and officials in U.S. companies were black. Just over one in 10 technicians was Latino, one third of one percent of sales workers were Asian and five out of six jobs classified as “professionals” belonged to men.

A report out this week from the EEOC called “American Experiences Versus American Expectations” charts the changing composition of the workforce. Importantly, it looks at the racial, ethnic and gender breakdown of nine different job types, like managers, professionals and technicians. That provides a different view than, say, looking at the racial composition of a particular industry, which maps over key differences in responsibility level and relative pay—for instance, working in “construction” can mean running a construction company, doing skilled trade work or serving as a laborer.

The story of the past 50 years is generally one of an increasing presence by blacks, Latinos, Asians and women. Every time the EEOC does a survey, the share of jobs held by members of those groups increases — with some exceptions.

Women, for instance, have seen a decreasing share of jobs as laborers (from 34 percent in 2002 to 31 percent in 2013), operators (a steady decline from 1984’s 34 percent to 22 percent in 2013) and craft workers (13 percent in ’02, 7 percent in ’13). In a change that could reflect a few different economic shifts, women’s share of clerical jobs decreased from 84 percent in 1984 to 76 percent in 2013.

chart

Blacks, meanwhile, saw gains in the management level over most of the past half-century, their share of such work rising from less than one percent in 1966 to nearly 7 percent in 2002. But then progress seems to have stalled. From 2002 to 2008, the U.S. economy added more than a million management jobs but blacks got fewer than 80,000 of them. And blacks lost a little ground between 2008 and 2013.

This is not a new concern. Back in 1986, Harvard Business Review published a story titled “Black Managers: A Dream Deferred” in which one CEO was quoted as saying, “The curve of progress has started to flatten more than it should relative to the effort we’ve made.” Of course, there was slow progress in the share of management jobs going to blacks, between the mid-1980s and the first years of the 20th century. But recent developments may have reversed that modestly hopeful trend: Austerity measures in the face of fiscal pressures during the Great Recession affected blacks—and, likely, black public-sector managers—more than others.