Black and Latino Executives Fall Further Behind
Wesley, Brown & Bartle (WB&B), a four-decade-old national executive search firm with the highest record of management diversity in corporate America, announced survey results reflecting a dismal re-employment picture for minority executives. “Despite the advance of widely publicized corporate diversity programs since we last surveyed them five years ago, lingering myths, de-selective biases and an impaired hiring process have impacted far more severely on African-American and Latino executives than their white counterparts,” says Wesley Poriotis, chairman of Wesley Brown & Bartle.
“Back then, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Wall Street Project asked our firm to report on the employment status of Black and Latino executives in corporate America,” says Poriotis. “Findings: less than 1% of them held operations and line roles -- rather, these diverse professionals mostly held posts in non-operations and corporate staff functions.”
Today, Mr. Poriotis says, it’s a fraction of what it was then. “Moreover, the WB&B survey included a tally of hundreds of corporate executive searches and showed that when an equally credentialed Black or Latino executive is one of three finalists for an open position, their respective chance of getting the job offer is not one in three but one in 33.”
He cites assignments from Fortune 500 companies where his firm in 2008-09 courted and presented in excess of 300 highly qualified minority candidates across multiple functions and levels. He terms them “the hidden talent pool of high performers.” Less than 2% were hired in line and operations roles that affect the company’s bottom-line.
“Blacks and Latinos have fallen further behind as corporations downsized during the past three years,” he says, causing a particularly poignant “hit” on affected executives of color who face a disproportionate challenge for re-employment. They must wade through the complex and de-selective hiring process which continues to result in multiple interviews without ultimate selection.
Poriotis blames his own executive search industry’s lack of commitment to inclusion for this. “In fact,” he says, “this economy has enabled the recruitment industry to fall back on an old myth that qualified Black and Latino candidates don’t exist. Plus, majority hiring managers are loath to pull the trigger, especially on a high-performing Black candidate who happens to be male.”
Moreover, he says the fact that Blacks and Latinos with advanced degrees from the Ivy League are perennially destined to lose in candidate shoot-outs is a harbinger of worse things to come. “The ranks of this upper-middle class group of diverse executives are being depleted,” he says, “much to the detriment of those in junior ranks who will follow, who look up through their corporate hierarchies to see no one in power in middle-management who looks like them. We must translate the ‘talk the talk’ of inclusion into a ‘walk the walk’ for the ultimate hiring of qualified Black and Latino mid-to-senior managers. Otherwise, corporate succession planning will continue to yield a paucity of diversity and stifle upward mobility in corporate ranks.”
He cites the conclusion of a Boston-based group, United for a Fair Economy, that even “college-educated Black men are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as their white college-educated counterparts.” That report inspired New York Times columnist Bob Herbert to fire off “Blacks in Retreat,” an op-ed piece noting that while “the election of a Black president may have been important to African-Americans ... it hasn’t done much for their bottom lines.”
Further evidence was provided in a 2009 Harvard Business Review article: “The Definitive Guide to Recruiting in Good Times and Bad.” The article rated executive recruiting as “haphazard at best, ineffective at worst,” and “a failure,” especially adding a dismal note on succession planning. In essence, adds Poriotis, there are three “players” engaged in the process: the CEO, the human resources professional and the hiring manager. “While the hiring manager makes the ultimate decision on which candidate will report to him/her,” he says, “the odds favoring a person of color ultimately will rise or fall on the CEO’s personal commitment to diversity as well as on the HR officer’s belief or disbelief that qualified minorities do exist.”
He notes that unless and until a CEO mandates a balanced slate of candidates for every staffing engagement, qualified Blacks and Latinos submerged in hidden talent pools will have little chance to compete for unadvertised, unpublicized, quality corporate roles.