You know you’re “black” in corporate America when…you’ve worked for the company for over two years. During a meeting with your boss you express a desire to pursue a higher level position you’ve been preparing for all along. Your boss says, “Do you think you are ready for such responsibilities?”
–Deborah A. Watts, 101 Ways to Know You’re “Black” in Corporate America
Ask most African Americans who have never risen through the corporate ranks about their experiences, and anecdotes like these are sure to pop up frequently. Even our newest business leaders-Lloyd Ward, Barry Rand, John Thompson, Franklin Raines, Kenneth Chenault, and those CEOs of smaller majority corporations-have endured their share of overt discrimination, subtle quips about perceived qualifications and capabilities and initial exclusion from certain business circles, all based solely on skin color. True, these few-to their credit and undoubtedly to that of those who paved the way in years past-have made it to the top. But has the corporate climate really evolved to the point where all who aspire to the upper echelons of management-regardless of race and gender-are able to get there?
To find the answer, and the real deal on other issues facing African Americans in the private sector, we assembled the heads of various black organizations representing the professional interests of a significant group of African Americans vital to the American workforce and economy. As representatives of their organizations-not the corporations for which they work-they came prepared to speak openly and honestly on this highly charged subject.
Present at the meeting were black enterprise Corporate Affairs Editor Marjorie Whigham-Désir; be Associate Editor Robyn D. Clarke; Dr. Martin N. Davidson, professor of leadership and organizational behavior at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia; Michael Mobley, chairman of the National Black MBA Association; Rodney O. Buie, president and CEO of the Alliance of Black Telecommunications Employees Inc.; Faye Mitchell Moore, National Association of Black Accountants; Charles Walker, executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers; Gerald Reed, president of Blacks in Government; Renee McClure, president of the Black Data Processors Association; and Deborah A. Watts, author of 101 Ways to Know You’re “Black” in Corporate America and president of Watts-Five Productions, a marketing
MARJORIE WHIGHAM-DÉSIR: The question is, has the glass ceiling really been shattered? Has the corporate environment really changed? Your various organizations represent, study or consult with people within those environments. There are African Americans who have moved up-we’ve got a couple who are now CEOs of companies, others who are presidents or CFOs, even chief information officers-but are we there yet?
If we aren’t, then what has to be done? If there’s a crack, then how do we force it open so more people can come through? What is it that we have to do to get there? In the new millennium what is the plan that we [are putting] forward?
MARTIN DAVIDSON: I’m going to talk about some of the key points of the [study]that I did [in] trying to understand the experiences