Blacks In Corporate America

Blacks In Corporate America (1985)

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Themes: Poverty, Progress, and the Rise of African-American Businesses and Professionals |

Guests: Levi Jackson, Dr. Robert Newby, John Blunt, Michael Carr, Robert Hill
Host : Ed Gordon
Producer : Tony Mottley


Summary: The program begins with a 16-minute documentary on the experience of black executives, many of whom describe their struggles for advancement. Michael Carr, for example, says he left IBM after several years to start his own computer firm when he saw that his skin color would limit him to middle management in the large corporation.

Another black executive, Robert Hill, who had reached a $25,000 settlement with Ford Motor Co. on a discrimination claim he had filed against the automaker, says companies may be willing to hire blacks, but have a very narrow view of the sort of black person who fits their corporate structure. And then, he says, those blacks who are hired get steered into personnel and public affairs positions, rather than the more powerful product development or finance positions from which the top executives are chosen.

After the documentary, host Ed Gordon, discusses the issue with John Blunt, a white president of an executive search firm; Levi Jackson, a black former Ford executive; and Dr. Robert Newby, a black sociology professor from Wayne State University.

Blunt says there is reason for optimism because some top corporate executives are beginning to recognize the skill and talent of black executives. "It's true, I said up front, we're 90 years behind, but I'm beginning to see more and more [black] people filling these positions," he says. "I see an improvement."

Jackson, a retired urban affairs manager for Ford, says a key part of the problem is that black executives do not move in the same social circles - attending church, playing golf, or hosting dinners - as their white supervisors, who make decisions about advancement. "They don't really get to know the black guy - or any minority - because he's not there socializing with them," Jackson says.

He says black executives also get tracked away from the kinds of positions - product or finance positions - from which the top tier of executives are usually chosen. He describes his own position at Ford as "a highly visible dead end." He says blacks should seek to develop connections with large corporations that lead to independent ownership - such as dealerships or supplier companies in the auto industry - rather than seeking to climb the internal corporate ladder.

And Newby says it is unrealistic to expect large corporations to do much about ending racial discrimination because their focus on profits and emphasis on organizational conformity make it hard for them to even acknowledge the issue.

"What we're looking for in corporations primarily is uniformity, people who look the same way, who act the same way, who wear the same kind of clothes, etc., that's the nature of the Organization Man, so to speak," Newby says. "So all of a sudden when you have a black guy who comes in and wants to wear a fancy suit, he doesn't fit. . . . The whole culture itself denies blacks in that sense."

The program provides a detailed look at the issues involved in the experience of black executives in large corporations and the prospects for change.