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Minority hiring shows problems in corporate America.

Minority Hiring Shows Problems in Corporate America

The quest of minorities for a place in corporate America, and the efforts of corporations to recruit them have been a mixed bag of success and failure, frustrations and fulfillment. Much of the problem traces to poor communication.

American business has staked out its position on how to boost minority employment and is attempting to accomplish it. It is unrealistic to think they will hire unqualified people. The problem is to find qualified minorities.

The issue today is surrounded by controversy, confusion and misconceptions, making it more difficult to reach a fair and equitable relationship between minorities and corporations.

Minorities and civil rights groups argue that without rigid rules and proper government monitoring of anti-discrimination laws, employers have little incentive to hire minorities.

To further complicate the situation, today corporations are in such a state of flux with the onslaught of takeovers, acquisitions and mergers, not to mention reorganizations in general, the Equal Employment Opportunity issue is far down the list of most US corporate priorities.

However, in todayhs global competition with second and third world countires, corporations cannot afford to limit minority employees' growth potential.

Our firm, The Cantor Concern, Inc., as executive search consultants in the field of communication, tried to survey members of management and minority groups regarding developments and trends in minority hiring. Since most people do not answer questionnaires in this sensitive field, we conducted personal interviews.

For purposes of this article, we defined minorities as blacks, women, hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders and American Indians.

Transformation of America

Everything is changing--our economy, our politics, our social relations--and we must channel those transformations to make a better and healthier society.

Here are a few facts that suggest to me that America is in a transformation period. The first fact is demographic.

The United States is a multiracial nation; one is every five Americans is black, hispanic or Asian. By the year 2000, one in every four Americans will be, according to the US Census Bureau.

The numbers command our attention. The black population will rise to 33.5 million. Hispanics will number about 23 million and Asians more than 10 million. By the year 2000, the US will have a non-white population of 67 million--larger than the total combined population of such countries as France, Germany and England, according to the Urban League.

Given those demographics, a central issue facing the US is its ability to secure an open, pluralistic, integrated society. Unless that huge minority--a fourth of the population--fully participates in the rewards and responsibilities of all sectors of America's economic, social and political life, our nation will be incapable of sustaining its economy or its world leadership role.

Tokenism can be no solution. Even if white hispanics, the most assimilated Asians and the best-educated blacks are granted opportunities, the sheer number of those left behind will overwhelm the system.

The demographic fact of a multiracial America offers the opportunity for a positive transformation to a more equal society. By investing in the human capital represented by its racial minorities and by an equivalent number of its disadvantaged white citizens, the US can harness the human resources essential to its progress.

A second fact is the disproportionate disadvantage that afflicts America's minorities. Do not be seduced by the trickle of blacks into corporate and management jobs, by the growing number of college-educated blacks and hispanics, or by the constant parade of new minority "firsts." Do not judge progress by the exceptions. Significant progress has been made but significant disadvantage persists among the many.

Fact three is the rapidly changing economy.

Our economy has been undergoing vast structural changes. The Steel Belt which had become the Rust Belt, is now recovering. The Cotton Belt has become the Growth Belt. There's a massive shift of jobs, and in the kind of jobs our economy creates.

We are in the High Tech era. The good news is that entire industries are emerging, industries that will create new opportunities in computers, advanced electronics and financial services. And these jobs will be filled with the better-educated applicant. The bad news is that well-paid, unionized manufacturing jobs are shrinking.

Even though there will be a lesser number of good jobs at the top, needing highly skilled people, the middle area will get hit the hardest. There will be new jobs, but mostly in low paying service areas.

In Retrospect

It seems a long time, but it was merely 20 years ago that minorities, with high visibility, began to enter the management ranks of corporate America. Supported by the Job Rights clause of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, minorities started to integrate the ranks of US business, only five years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

As late as 1971, the number of minority corporate officers had reached less than two dozen, according to reports at the time. But today--two decades since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, minorities have become a presence on the corporate scence. They have proved themselves in government, the military and academia and are in the process of doing so in business today. They are progressing--but there are problems. We think they are, in part, communication problems.

The Situation Today Between Management

and Minorities

In our experience, here is what we have found:

Today there are more highly educated and qualified minorities available than ever before, but they claim they have difficulty in finding suitable employment in their chosen fields.

Management, in attempting to comply with various government regulations relating to minorities, claims it is assiduously seeking qualified minorities for key positions but can't find enough of them!

Management says it is trying to recruit them via employment agencies and executive search firms, but with limited success. However, rarely is management willing to put such firms on retainer for recruiting minorities, as it so often does when recruiting other important executives. Management efforts to directly recruit qualified minorities have not been especially successful.

Consequently, corporate management feels it must recruit minorities on campus--and train the candidates for executive positions, which is a lengthy process. A member of a minority group is usually not directly hired for a key executive position supervising other professionals, or a decision-making role with bottom-line responsibilities. To secure such a position, a minority often must be an even better performer than his or her white counterpart, and many lack this supervisory experience.

Minority members say their upward path is often strewn with subtle obstacles difficult to overcome and not usually encountered by non-minorities. Conversely, corporate management asserts members of minority groups are usually not as aggressive in filing applications and resumes with prospective corporate employers and employment agencies as their white counterparts, even when strongly urged to do so.

Minorities say that they feel that they will not be treated fairly and given an equal chance to compete for a given position. They claim that many times their chance ends with the first interview when the prospective employer discovers they are a minority. But management insists that many minorities are not well prepared for the interview.

Which claim is valid is not the question. The fact is, this situation clearly denies corporations access to qualified minorities.

A leading black corporate executive says, "it takes a level of commitment by employers to set and achieve hiring targets.

"Goals and timetables are what we in industry have always used," he says, stressing that "the targets must be flexible so employers are not forced to strictly fulfill hiring targets."

Minority professionals--and there are many--feel they should not be hired just to fill a quota dictated by a government agency or required by the terms of a contract, but strictly on the basis of their qualifications and potential to perform.

On the other side of the coin, many non-minority employees feel that the quota system works against them and is a form of reverse discrimination. Some managers complained about the government-imposed hiring goals, feeling that they equate to "special treatment."

With the relaxation of govenrment-imposed rules and regulations under former US President Reagan's administration, the problems of minorities worsened, many of them feel. The former guidelines are no longer enforced, and the quota system has become controversial.

The Communication Gap--Perception Versus


A communication gap exists between management and minorities, representatives of both sides say -- the difference between perception and reality. Historically, many ethnic groups that have tried to assimilate and gain employment suffered blatant discrimination by the corporate world. But today, there are a number of minorities such as IABC's 1989 EXCEL award winner John Johnson who occupy the pinnacles of corporate and political power. The same will be true of other minorities in the future.

Management seems slow to adjust its personnel policies to minority recruiting and rarely seeks outside assistance of recruiters, which would indicate a stronger commitment. Since minority recruiting is essentially no different from mainstream hiring, employers should use the same techniques in conducting a search for minorities.

Management should establish and maintain closer personal relations and contacts with members and representatives of minority groups to obtain a better understanding of their aspirations and problems.

Members of minority groups might do more to prepare themselves for entry into the labor force, management claims. They should prepare themselves for their chosen occupation and get as much education as possible.

Qualified members of minority groups should become more adept in searching for suitable positions with properly prepared credentials, develop contacts, learn how to handle interviews and favorably present themselves to management. They should be persistent.

Once hired, minorities must strive to become assimilated into the corporation they join, understanding its goals and what is expected of them. Instead of working and socializing exclusively among their own ethnic groups, thus isolating themselves, they must learn to communicate with others, and become part of the organization's mainstream.

High Visibility--A Plus and a Minus

While a non-minority employee often has the problem of not having his or her good performance noticed by management, minorities have the opposite problem. Because of their visibility, their performance will be noted more quickly. This can be both a plus and a minus. Excellent performances encourage management to hire more people from that minority group. Several New York City hospitals actively recruit Filipino nurses because of good previous experience with them.

Equal employment opportunity is not something corporations should do for minorities. It is something corporations must do for themselves to attract talent.

Many companies are locked into "credentialism"--abstract criteria which are not job-related and do not predict success. They must look at people, not at culture-bound credentials.

Affirmative action can't be limited to a CEO's announcement or a two-day executive training program. It must be practiced at all levels of corporate life, and must extend beyond formal hiring, promotion and grievance procedures. This is the skeleton in the corporate closet. It's something no one talks about. But it's there, and it effectively sabotages even the most sincere corporate affirmative action directives.

The basic problem is human communication--especially intercultural communication. Labor and management have difficulty enough understanding each other, but the problem is compounded often by language barriers and cultural and ethnic differences which cannot change easily. Non-minority management must recognize that it might have to communicate with minorities differently than with non-minorities. Many of management's problems with minorities stem from lack of familiarity and simple misunderstanding. Professional communicators can and should be of great assistance in the solution of such problems. Unfortunately, the communication industry itself is guilty of a lack-luster effort in opening its profession to minorities and/or opening paths to middle and upper management positions.

The more progressive corporations strive for diversity--with various ethnic and cultural groups. Management is learning how to be comfortable with these groups and how to get them to work together as a team toward a common objective.

A vice president of a Fortune 500 corporation stated, "The United States was built in a large measure by ethnic minorities who worked together. Ethnic diversity made our country great. I have to believe that the same kind of diversity can make our companies great, too."
COPYRIGHT 1989 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on increasing the effectiveness of the multicultural workplace
Author:Cantor, Bill
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Previous Article:Changing face of Canadian population challenges managements.
Next Article:Communicating outside our borders.

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