Lift Job Barriers, Top to Bottom

THE glass ceiling" is a phrase used to describe the artificial barriers that keep qualified women and minority employees from being promoted to top-management positions. A Department of Labor report issued this month, "The Glass Ceiling Initiative," finds that among executive-level managers in Fortune 1,000 companies, only 6.6 percent are women and just 2.6 percent are minorities.But besides the glass ceiling at the top, there exists what could be called the "glass door" at the bottom - barriers that prevent minority and women applicants from even gaining entry to certain well-paying fields. A new study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) reports that among participants in a federal job-training program, blacks and women are more likely than white men to be placed in low-paying jobs. In one project operated under the Job Training Partnership Act, 55 percent of white men received electronics instruction, leading to jobs averaging $7.50 an hour. Only 26 percent of black men were trained in electronics, while 42 percent received training in health or food services, where jobs paid less than $6 an hour. Women were most likely to be trained for lower-paying health or clerical jobs, the study found. The report emphasizes that these findings do not serve as evidence that civil rights violations occurred. Many trainees, whose ranks include disadvantaged and dislocated workers, have less education and less work experience than other prospective employees. Some also deliberately chose lower-income jobs or refused the training that would lead to better-paying positions. Even so, the study found cases of blatant sexism and racism. According to Franklin Frazier, who heads the ongoing GAO study, certain employers would state that they didn't want blacks, Hispanics, or women. Others would interview minorities but fail to hire them. Within the next decade, white males will account for only 15 percent of the net growth in the work force, according to Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin. American businesses will need to hire and train a more diverse pool of workers than ever before. But if necessity is one motivator, fairness should be another. As these two government reports show, equal opportunity still tends to be more rhetoric than reality. The new diversity, the new equality will involve two steps: opening the glass door to give less experienced workers an opportunity to step onto the lower rungs of well-paying career ladders, and dismantling the glass ceiling to allow qualified mid-level managers a chance to climb closer to the top.

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