Why do we still see such disparity with diverse executives?

The corporate and business landscape have shadows of individuals that have advanced to the executive ranks. There is chatter as to why we are still talking about minorities not having opportunities and not being represented. Unfortunately, there are some that believe there is no problem or need to focus on advancing people of color. There are enough. They have the same opportunities as anyone else. That all sounds good, but it is truly not that simple. Companies have the right language, but we don’t see the alignment with action. Review the results of the talk by looking at the outcomes. The numbers really tell the story. So, what does the data show. If the concern is post-secondary education, we appear to have a pool of talent to work with to advance in various industries.

According to the U.S. Census:

  • The high school dropout rate from 1968 to 2018 went from 33% to 5%
  • 26% of Blacks ages 25 and older attain a bachelor’s degree…national average is 36% of the population
  • Black college completion has grown closer to about three-quarters of the national average

According to National Center for Education Statistics, from 2000 to 2016:

  • Bachelor’s degrees attained by Blacks increased from 111,300 to 194,500
  • Bachelor’s degrees attained by Hispanics increased from 77,700 to 235,000
  • Bachelor’s degrees attained by Asian/Pacific Islanders increased from 78,900 to 138,300
  • Master’s degrees attained by Blacks increased from 9.4% to 13.5%
  • Master’s degrees attained by Hispanics increased from 4.8% to 10.7%Master’s degrees attained by Asian/Pacific Islanders increased from 5.8% to 7.4%

And there is additional data on other minority groups as well.

African Americans

There have been references made to limited Black talent available for hire. According to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 4.6 million African Americans now hold a fouryear degree and 669,000 African American women compared to 409,000 African American men have master’s degrees. Although there is still room for growth in this talent pool, this diversity group appears to have educated talent.

There is talent to consider when developing a robust diverse succession plan. So why do we still see such disparity with diverse executives? There is 10% or less representation of men and women of color at the senior vice president and C-suite levels of corporations. We boast of equal opportunity for all but there are some indications that hiring, promotional, development, and selection practices need improvements in order for these statistics to change.

In a recent management training course with first line managers in a major equipment manufacturer, the discussion of unconscious bias pointed out some key approaches of concern. Several managers indicated that they mentored and give learning opportunities to individuals that look like them or who they can relate to. Decisions were less likely based on ability and the desire of the employees to excel in their career path. This behavior limits the growth opportunities of POC at the first levels of advancement.

The Solution

Organization: To achieve and meet your results, and reach a goal, you have to be intentional. The POC gap can be minimized through more focused efforts and support from the cradle to the grave of talent lifespan. That is from recruitment to succession planning. Talent management in companies of all sizes have to include intentional development of POC, especially African Americans, in their strategy and in the execution of succession plans.

It is not just about getting the degrees. They need to be able to implement and gain experience. They need coaching and additional development to effectively move up the management ranks. Unfortunately, despite the degrees, managers tend to select individuals to mentor, serve as backups, delegate projects that give exposure and experience, to people who look like them. What is unspoken is their admission of the “intimidation factor”. It brings out the lack of knowledge, not wanting to address the real concerns, unconscious bias, the capabilities they do not want to compete against, and the sheer fact of not wanting to be led by POC. Hence, the belief that we need to be twice as good or be in a constant state of proving ourselves when others do not have to endure the same treatment.

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which [one] has overcome while trying to succeed.”


Talent: The solution does not just depend on the actions of the organizations. Everyone has their own style and approach to work. However, there are some common behaviors that are attached to POCs that can’t be ignored. It does not mean that the beliefs and assumptions of others are true, but they must be evaluated and considered. There are some behaviors, strategies and actions that POC talent should make part of their career path activities. Having developmental opportunities, mentors and coaches that can be trusted to share their concerns and behavioral shortcomings are crucial to increasing the diversity at the top.

Trust and the fear of information shared during learning opportunities are real. POCs have had vulnerable discussions used as reasons to keep them from progressing and receiving opportunities. This makes it common for them to seek outside support and developmental opportunities where they can share and be transparent about their experiences. Finding resources are not impossible but will require the employees to seek support outside of their employer’s offerings.

There is more to be done from the organization and the employee perspective to increase the impact and pipeline of POC to the C-suite. The key factor is that all responsibility is not in the behavior and engagement of the employees. Intentional efforts by organizations are essential in making this a part of their strategy, goals and succession planning efforts at every level. The other option is to support employee attendance in external programs like the Next Level Executive Program™ designed specifically for POC. This leadership and management development program addresses their specific challenges and provides a cohort-trusted environment for growth. A good reminder is that businesses and organizations should mirror their customers not just in their purchasing power but also in their earning and advancement.

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