Erma Gordon, founder of Minority Business Alliance of Southwest Michigan, passes along what she has learned to support other minority entrepreneurs. (Photo: Mark Bugnaski / Kalamazoo Gazette)
Black women face special challenges in their efforts to reach the top levels of corporate America, according to a new study.
Weaker or less strategic networks and inaccurate perceptions of their abilities are two leading barriers to their advancement to the positions of chief executive, chief financial officer or chief operating officer, according to the Executive Leadership Council, an organization for black executives.
One percent of senior corporate officers are black women, according to the ELC, compared with 3 percent for black men, 14 percent for white women and 77 percent for white men.
The council questioned 150 executives, including vice presidents, CEOs and board members from a variety of industries and locations, about reasons for the disparities. Thirty-one percent cited networking and 24 percent cited a perception gap as hindering the advancement of black women. Fifteen percent cited racism.
Seventy-five percent of the respondents said it was important to have senior executives who are minorities in order to provide new ideas and innovation and better reflect the diversity of their customers.
"If you have the same group of people looking at the same issues, you will come up with the same solutions," said council CEO Carl Brooks, who is black.
To overcome these barriers, black women executives should seek challenging, high-profile assignments; create action plans for accomplishing their career goals; work with executive coaches and take advantage of critical feedback, respondents said.
"At the end of the day, there is no replacement for outstanding performance," said Jerri DeVard, a black woman who runs DeVard Marketing Group in New York. "But â€¦ sometimes those intangibles are more important than the performance. You need someone who can demystify those intangibles and say, 'These are the things that are getting in your way.' "
The study, released Wednesday, was done by Harris Interactive from Nov. 4 to Dec. 2.
Due to its small sample size, it is not scientifically representative of the business community at large.