In business and in college, blacks caught in a squeeze. In US corporations, minorities are stuck at mid-level jobs; can't jump hurdles to top posts
Washington — The world of business has opened its doors to blacks, but it is not letting them climb the career ladder to the top floor. Despite the civil rights movement and the push for affirmative action in hiring, subtle prejudice is still keeping blacks out of senior positions, says Edward W. Jones Jr., who is writing a book on the subject.
Mr. Jones, a graduate of the Harvard Business School, conducted three years of research that included interviews with 30 black executives, each earning at least $100,000, and more than 200 black managers, mostly holders of graduate degrees in business administration.
His conversations with black managers reflect their ``disappointment, dismay, frustration, and anger, because they have not gained acceptance on par with their white peers. They find their careers stymied.''
Corporations and educational institutions have done much to give ``thousands of black managers the background to move up to more responsible positions,'' says Jones. But while ``the corporate door is open, access to the upper floors is blocked.''
Less than 1 percent of the senior executives in Fortune-1,000 companies are minorities, according to a 1985 study by the recruiting and research firm of Korn Ferry International.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statistics show that blacks have increased their numbers in managerial occupations from 1.9 percent in 1970 to 4.8 percent in 1985. But 72,000 discrimination complaints were filed with the EEOC this year - the highest number of complaints in the agency's 24-year history.
According to a questionnaire prepared by Jones and responded to by 107 black graduates of the top five graduate business schools, 98 percent thought subtle prejudice pervaded their companies while 84 percent thought considerations of race had a negative impact on promotion, ratings, assignments, appraisals, recognition, and pay.
``In theory you can work anywhere you want; the barriers to occupation choices have been eliminated,'' says Gordon Davis, a law partner at the New York firm of Lord Day & Lord. However, in practice he says, ``there's an odd phenomenon. After the initial embrace in the '60s, it's become less of a concern.''
Racism, Jones says, ``is too highly charged a word for this behavior.'' He calls it ``colorism,'' a ``deep-seated attitude that ... is often subconscious.''
The powerful in companies are white males in their 50s and 60s whose perception of blacks is often framed from having lived during American segregation, says David L. Vaughn, a former manager at Pfizer Inc. who left to work for Coors Beer this week. ``When they look at blacks they don't see equals, they see the downtrodden.''
As the highest ranking black in Pfizer personnel department, Mr. Vaughn maintains he was repeatedly passed over for advancement. ``I was dissatisfied and I complained. Each time I complained I got a new title, more money, lots of money, but no serious responsibility. I don't think they look out and say, `let's not promote blacks.' But when it comes to promoting at the higher levels, they look to their peers.''
J.T. Callahan, director of corporate press relations at Pfizer, says Vaughn ``made contributions that were recognized and appreciated.''
One ironic twist, Vaughn points out, is that corporate America has pushed to put blacks in charge of minority hiring and equal opportunity programs - but when these companies are taken over or fall on hard times, these positions are often the first to be eliminated because they don't directly contribute to profits.
EEOC director Clarence Thomas says that in the 1970s, departments like community relations and equal opportunity became a ``depository'' for blacks. The ``unintended effect,'' he said, is these jobs go when profits fall.
This happened to Joseph E. Burgess, according to the former assistant vice-president of human relations for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. He says racism ``reorganized'' him out of a job.
Metropolitan Life's vice-president of employee relations, James C. Doyle, says that the company has decentralized the equal employment opportunity function that Burgess belonged to. Now managers of individual departments will prepare affirmative action reports. This is part of an overall company decrease in personnel, says Mr. Doyle. ``Just because Mr. Burgess lost his job does not mean that we are not hiring minorities,'' he says, adding that the company's percentages of minority executives will remain the same.
Another factor cited as contributing to the glacial progress for corporate blacks is Reagan administration policy, says Richard Clarke, president of Richard Clarke Associates, an executive search firm specializing in minority placements. The White House, he says, is ``nibbling affirmative action to death'' with the implicit okay to give equal opportunity a back seat. ``Not realizing I was black, one manager at a major electronics firm that is a major defense contractor told me in a phone conversation, `We don't have to worry about that stuff anymore.'''
Because of their frustrations, many black managers are leaving their companies to start their own businesses.
George Brooker is one of them. In 1967 Mr. Brooker was made vice-president at a major real estate firm in New York. ``I realized right away that I was never going to be CEO,'' he said. He left to form Brooker and Webb, which manages property worth $500 million and takes in rents of $20 million. He and his partner have their office in Harlem.
``I never could have accomplished what I have if I'd stayed at a white firm. We learned that if we wanted to make decisions, hire people in jobs they've never participated in, we had to control something, an economic base. Ultimately that's where our strength is going to be.''