Diversity in top professions takes a nosedive: Still think we don’t need affirmative action?

Opinion

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Did you think it is time to end affirmative action in America?  On the eve of a big decision on affirmative action coming from the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps a new report from the New York Times on the state of diversity in America will change your mind.

The glass ceiling continues to break and new milestones are made as African-Americans and others climb the ladder of success.  The nation even has its first black CEO in the White House.  Yet, despite the progress America has made in diversifying its workforce and its management ranks, the country is backsliding.

Minority groups have been disproportionately affected by the Great Recession, and to make things worse, since the economic downturn, it appears diversity has not been a priority for employers.  For those who care about racial inclusion in the professional world, the news is downright discouraging.

Disappointing data across the board

For example, although 12 percent of America’s workforce is black, only slightly more than 1 percent of all Fortune 500 companies have black CEOs.  About 3.2 percent of senior positions at the largest corporations are held by blacks.  Five percent of doctors and dentists and 3 percent of architects are African-American.

According to the National Association of Black Journalists, the number of journalists of color is on the decline, with black journalists most severely impacted.  Over the past decade, nearly 1,000 blacks in newsrooms have lost their jobs, greater than any minority group.  And about 1 in 3 newsroom jobs lost was held by a journalist of color. As of last year, nonwhites were nearly 35 percent of the U.S. population, yet only accounted for 12 percent of the newsroom management.

Moreover, in 2010 the number of minorities and women in law firms fell for the first time, with the former accounting for 12.4 percent of lawyers nationwide, and the latter making up 32.69 percent of the profession.  Minorities account for 6.16 percent of partners in major law firms, while women are 19.43 percent. It is unacceptable to have a disproportionately white legal profession, with a criminal justice system that largely incarcerates blacks and Latinos.

While blacks and other underrepresented groups face daunting barriers in the upper echelons of the private sector, they are being jammed in the entry level positions as well, a cause for much concern.  Those who are on the outside looking in are faced with a number of challenges, including the unfair stigma of inferiority that comes with being a diverse candidate, or a so-called “affirmative action hire,” and the segregation of social circles, which prevents young black professionals from receiving the support, mentorship and acceptance they need in moving up the predominantly white corporate ladder.

Supreme Court to play wild card role

The bad news on diversity comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to issue a decision in Fisher v. University of Texas, which challenges the legality of affirmative action in college admissions.  The high court ruling in Fisher may very well be the most important affirmative action case since Grutter v. Bollinger, where the Supreme Court narrowly upheld the diversity policy at the University of Michigan with a 5-to-4 vote.