“Concrete ceiling” in corporate America remains for women of color


A new study by McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org reveals that women remain significantly underrepresented in companies and corporate boardrooms across the county.  This glass ceiling and gender gap still exists despite the fact that women have earned more college degrees than men for more than three decades now.

As the study’s authors point out:

Diversity leads to stronger business results, as numerous studies have shown. But we can’t unlock the full potential of our workplace until we see how far from equality we really are.


Big picture results

The study gathered data from 222 companies that employ over 12 million people, and this information yielded two big-picture themes, according to the authors:

  • “on average, women continue to be hired and promoted at lower rates than men, and at senior levels, the gap in promotions is more pronounced for women of color;”
  • the lower representation of women does not appear to be driven by difference in company-level attrition; on average, women and men are leaving their organizations at about the same rate, and very few plan to leave the workforce to focus on family”

Even though women comprise 57% of college graduates, less women than men are hired at the entry-level and “[a]t every subsequent step, the representation of women further declines, and women of color face an even more dramatic drop-off at senior levels.”

For example, even though women are 52% of the total U.S. population, they occupy only 20% of C-suite roles.  For women of color, the numbers are worse: despite being 19% of the total U.S. population, women of color hold only 3% of C-suite jobs.

Snapshots of gender representation in different industries

One of the more interesting elements of the study is its analysis of female representation rates across various industries and at different job levels.

Some of the highest representation rates in C-suite jobs are:

  • health care (35% women)
  • retail (31% women)
  • media and entertainment (27%)

On the flip side, the industries with the lowest representation rates in C-suite jobs are:

  • automotive and industrial manufacturing (13%)
  • telecom and IT services (15%)
  • energy and basic materials (16%)

The “concrete ceiling” for women of color

It’s often said that a “glass ceiling” exists for women in companies, and for women of color the added layer of race creates a further “concrete ceiling” when it comes to promotions.  As the study’s author’s note: “Women of color face more obstacles and a steeper path to leadership, from receiving less support from managers to getting promoted more slowly. And this affects how they view the workplace and their opportunities for advancement.”

The unfortunate takeaway is that:

two patterns are clear: compared to white women, things are worse for women of color, and they are particularly difficult for black women.

By way of example, the rate of promotions for white women is a paltry 7.4%, but for black women it is an even lower 4.9% promotion rate.

Six steps toward gender equality

The study gives its assessment of how to improve gender equality and provides a 6-step roadmap, the details of which can be read in the study itself:

  • Make a compelling case for gender diversity
  • Invest in more employee training
  • Give managers the means to drive change
  • Ensure that hiring, promotions, and reviews are fair
  • Give employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives
  • Focus on accountability and results

The study concludes that, “[l]ooking ahead, creating inclusive workplaces will only become more important. Millennials are now the largest and most diverse generation, and the workforce is growing more diverse each year.”  Thus, companies that can “keep up with the pace of this change will have a competitive edge, and those that don’t will be left behind.”

Hiring an experienced employment discrimination lawyer

Hiring a proven and effective advocate is critical to obtaining the maximum recovery in an employment discrimination case.  Eric Bachman, Chair of the Firm’s Discrimination Practice, has substantial experience litigating precedent-setting individual and class action discrimination cases.   His wins include a $100 million settlement in a disparate impact Title VII class action and a $16 million class action settlement against a major grocery chain.  Having served as Special Litigation Counsel in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and as lead or co-counsel in numerous jury trials, Bachman is trial-tested and ready to fight for you to obtain the relief that you deserve.

Bachman writes frequently on topics related to promotion discrimination, harassment, and other employment discrimination issues at the Glass Ceiling Discrimination Blog.

U.S. News and Best Lawyers® have named Zuckerman Law a Tier 1 firm in Litigation – Labor and Employment in the Washington DC metropolitan area.  Contact us today to find out how we can help you.  To schedule a preliminary consultation, click here or call us at (202) 769-1681 or (202)262-8959.

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