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New Catalyst Study Tells the Stories of Six Women of Color Executives

What it Takes to Make It

Personal resilience, mentors, and a knack for creating opportunity are just three of the tools used by women of color executives to break down the “concrete ceiling,” according to a study released today by Catalyst, the leading organization working to advance women in business.

In Women of Color Executives: Their Voices, Their Journeys, women of color describe exclusionary and risk-averse organizational cultures as key elements that lead to the “concrete ceiling”—a term used to denote a denser, harder-to-shatter barrier than the glass ceiling. The latest in a series of Catalyst reports about women of color in corporate America, this research features six women’s stories and includes an analysis of 35 in-depth interviews.

The women interviewed say that cultures where leaders take risks by mentoring women of color and providing them with high-visibility assignments will greatly improve their opportunities to advance.

“Lack of mentors was cited by women of color as the biggest barrier to success in Catalyst’s large-scale survey,” said Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst. “Despite exclusionary cultures, these women found and developed mentoring relationships with influential people in their organizations. They knew how critical to their success it was and they figured out a way to make it happen.”

Women of color who hold top jobs in their organizations are few and far between. Currently, women of color comprise a mere 1.3 percent of corporate officers in 400 of the Fortune 500, according to the 2000 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners.

“These are the stories behind the numbers,” said Katherine Giscombe, senior director of research at Catalyst. “These are talented and resourceful women who have had to be extraordinarily resilient and strategic in working their way through difficult barriers. And as they tell us, the barriers are still there. Companies need to make their cultures more inclusive and really level the playing field.”

Catalyst recommends that companies aim to dismantle cultures of exclusion by taking risks on women of color with high-visibility assignments and improving accountability measures. In addition, encourage and support networking and recruit women senior women of color.

This study was sponsored by AT&T; BP p.l.c.; The Coca-Cola Company; DuPont; IBM; Kellogg Company; Motorola Foundation; Nestlé USA, Inc.

Background on Catalyst’s series on Women of Color in Corporate Management:
In Women of Color in Corporate Management: Opportunities and Barriers, released in 1999, Catalyst surveyed nearly 2,000 women of color managers and professionals. In this groundbreaking study, Catalyst identified the top barriers to advancement for these women: not having an influential mentor, lack of informal networking, lack of role models who are members of their racial/ethnic group, and lack of high visibility assignments. (For more information on that report, go to http://www.catalystwomen.org/press/mediakit/index.html) Catalyst previously published Women of Color in Corporate Management: Dynamics of Career Advancement (1998) and Women of Color in Corporate Management: A Statistical Picture (1997).

About Catalyst: Catalyst is a nonprofit research and advisory organization working to advance women in business and the professions, with offices in New York and Toronto. The leading source of information on women in business for the past four decades, Catalyst has the knowledge and tools that help employers and women maximize their potential. Our solutions-oriented approach—through research, Advisory Services, Corporate Board Placement, and the Catalyst Award—has earned the confidence of global business leaders. For additional information, please visit our Web site at http://www.catalystwomen.org/home.html or call 212-514-7600.