Women Of Color Are A Third Of All Working Women, But They Aren’t In Corporate America

Women of color make up a third of all working women, but they are scarce in corporate America.

Women of color make up just 16.5 percent of people who work for S&P; 500 companies, some of the country’s largest and most financially powerful, according to new research from Catalyst. But they become even rarer the further up the ladder you go. They represent less than 10 percent of managers, a measly 3.9 percent of executives, and just 0.4 percent of CEOs. In fact, there is not a single Latina CEO among the S&P; 500.

CREDIT: Catalyst
CREDIT: Catalyst

They don’t fare any better on corporate boards. As Catalyst noted, “On S&P; 500 boards, women of color are nearly invisible.” Among Fortune 500 companies, a slightly different group of large American companies, they hold just 3.1 percent of board seats. Their small share is at least in part due to the fact that the same women of color tend to serve in multiple seats: they are twice as likely as white women to be on more than one board.

Women overall, by contrast, make up 19.2 percent of board seats in the S&P; 500, 4.8 percent of CEOs, over a quarter of executives, more than 35 percent of managers, and nearly half of the entire workforce. White women fare much better than women of color: they make up over a quarter of managers, more than 20 percent of executives, and 4.4 percent of CEOs.

But women and people of color both run up against many of the same barriers in the corporate world. Most top-ranking women are stuck in roles that rarely lead to C-level jobs, and when women try to get ahead they face a backlash and don’t advance as far as men who use the same tactics.

Even when they do get promoted to the top of a company, it’s likely during times of duress, a phenomenon called the “glass cliff.” During times of good performance, white men tend to hold onto their domination of powerful positions. But researchers have found that return on equity was consistently negative before a woman and/or a person of color became CEO at a Fortune 500 company between 1996 and 2010. The glass cliff has been found to affect women in a variety of different studies. This means women are more likely to be forced out of their executive positions, and when they are a white man is brought back in as a “savior.”

But keeping the C-suite and board room pale and male is not just unfair; it’s also unproductive. Companies with female CEOs outperform the stock market and other indexes, while companies with the best financial performance have more women in executive positions. The same trends are true of putting more women on boards: companies with more women on their boards beat those without women, and putting more women in the mix leads to decisions that protect value and performance and deters those that lead to scandal and fraud.