White males still hold more than 95 percent of the top management jobs at the country's largest corporations, a figure that remains virtually unchanged despite a decade of social change, according to a new survey on the American work force released yesterday.
The study by the University of California at Los Angeles Graduate School of Management and Korn/Ferry, a corporate recruiter, surveyed close to 700 top executives around the country and compared the findings with a similar study they conducted in 1979. Since 1979, neither women nor minorities increased their ranks at the level of senior vice president or above by more than 2 percentage points, the study found.
Experts on management and workplace issues said they were astonished at the study's revelation: that 10 years of growing corporate awareness of the importance of promoting women and minorities have yielded little concrete progress.
Several said it comes as further evidence that many companies still have an invisible ceiling above which women and minorities find it difficult to climb.
"I think there's clearly a glass ceiling," said Barbara Franklin, a District businesswoman who serves on the board of directors of such companies as Dow Chemical Co., Westinghouse Electric Corp. and Aetna Life & Casualty. "There's a lot of subtle discrimination," she said.
In the most recent study, researchers at UCLA sent questionnaires to more than 4,000 senior executives at the nation's 1,000 largest service and industrial companies, asking them questions about their own gender and race, and about the makeup of their companies' top ranks. They received about 700 responses, a number that management experts said was sizable. The researchers followed a similar procedure in their 1979 survey.
Alice Eagly, an expert on gender and workplace issues at Purdue University, said women's and minorities' failure to penetrate the executive suite may in part stem from the fact that these groups only recently have made significant inroads into middle management. It may be some time before these people gain the experience current management thinks they need to hold executive-level positions, she said.
"There's still some feeling on the part of the highest management that women and minorities don't have the same qualifications," Eagly said.
Although the 1989 survey results showed little change at top management levels since the first study, executives showed an increasing willingness to accept women into their ranks. Sixty-eight percent of those responding to the survey said they believed more women would hold senior management positions by the year 2000.
"Corporations are learning that it's bad business to ignore women and minorities, both because they wield growing economic clout and because they represent a rich pool of managerial talent," said J. Clayburn La Force, dean of the John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA.
"Another ten years from now, I think we'll see much more diversity in the executive population," La Force said.
If Marriott Corp., with 200,000 employees, can be considered a bellwether, then corporations have many women and minorities waiting in the pipeline to be promoted. "We have more minorities and females coming up the line than we ever have had," said Cliff Ehrlich, Marriott's senior vice president of human resources.
Ehrlich said that women and minorities make up about 10 percent of Marriott's top management.
According to the study, women made slightly more progress than minorities over the past decade. About 3 percent of those questioned in the latest survey were women, compared with 0.5 percent in 1979. Less than 1 percent identified themselves as black, Hispanic or Asian in the latest survey. The numbers are virtually identical to 1979: At that time, 99 percent of the executives said they were white.
"It's a little bit surprising that there hasn't been more breakthrough" for women and minorities, said Ed O'Brien, an assistant professor of psychology at Marywood College in Scranton, Pa., who studies management issues. "There're barriers imposed if you don't share the same interests or follow the same football teams."