News Column

Glass Ceiling Cracked, Not Shattered

Hispanic Business® magazine
April 2002

Has the glass ceiling been shattered? No, say two Hispanic former members of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, which issued its final report in 1995.

The term “glass ceiling” entered the vernacular in 1986 following a Wall Street Journal article describing invisible barriers women confront as they approach the top of the corporate hierarchy. Nine years later, the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission released 12 recommendations to reduce career barriers for women, minorities, and the physically challenged in business, government, and society. Eight of the 12 recommendations focused on reforming the business environment (see box below).

“We have made some progress,” says Delia Reyes, a former commission member who owns a minority procurement consulting firm near Dallas. “There are some companies that have excelled at this, and others that haven’t.”

Those that have excelled tend to be near the top of the Fortune 500. Ms. Reyes cites companies such as Coca-Cola, IBM, and General Motors, which the public scrutinizes to such a degree that ignoring diversity would invite public scorn.

Maria Contreras-Sweet, a former commission member who now serves as secretary of business, transportation, and housing for the State of California, notes that companies like Coca-Cola recognize the importance of having a workforce that reflects the demographics of its marketplace. The diversity holdouts tend to come from other industries, such as wholesalers especially small- to medium-size companies, Ms. Reyes adds) that have been slower to understand the importance of a diverse workforce.

Government, Ms. Contreras-Sweet says, has led the way in removing barriers. As California’s economy has grown to the fifth largest in the world, it shows that diversity and economic growth are not mutually exclusive.

Ms. Reyes says that although there has been some improvement in the private sector, too often Hispanics who climb the corporate ladder end up in what she describes as the “Hispanic corner.” She refers to jobs dealing with the Hispanic community and Hispanic enterprises. Women, too, get pigeonholed in “women’s jobs” in community relations and human resources.

“Those human resources positions and community relations positions don’t put you in line to go into the executive suite,” Ms. Reyes explains. “They offer a great title with very little power and no chance of breaking through that ceiling, which is what you really need to do.”

Although not broken, the glass ceiling has developed a few cracks, says Ms. Reyes, especially when it comes to women’s issues. “The one thing a lot of companies have done is make work more family friendly,” she concludes.

Barrier Reductions for Businesses

• Demonstrate CEO commitment
• Include diversity in strategic plans and hold managers accountable
• Use affirmative action
• Select, promote, and retain qualified individuals
• Prepare minorities and women for senior positions
• Educate the corporate ranks
• Initiate work/life and family-friendly policies
• Adopt high workplace performance practices

SOURCE: "A Solid Investment: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital, Recommendations of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission"

Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

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