Minorities underrepresented in Hub corporate leadership

Martin Desmarais | 1/22/2014, 10:53 a.m.

While people of color make up more than 50 percent of Boston’s population, the city’s corporate leadership remains overwhelmingly white, according to a University of Massachusetts, Boston study.

Only 3.4 percent people of color held jobs at the senior executive level and 9.4 percent held jobs at the mid-level manager level, while 55 percent held jobs at the professional level and 32 percent held jobs at the lowest paying occupations, such as administrative support workers, laborers and service workers, the study found.

The study was conducted by Commonwealth Compact, a project organized out of the UMass Boston, has been studying the diversity of Boston’s workplace since 2008 and has released three separate studies of its findings. The most recent study, released in 2013 and titled “Managing Up: Managing Diversity in Challenging Times,” covered a five year period to look at the most recent trends in corporate diversity. The study examined about 280 companies with almost 200,000 employees.

The study also examined which industries are best at having people of color in high-level positions and found that the educational sector had the most people of color in senior management at 6 percent, while the health care industry and the government sector only had 1 percent people of color in executive positions. These findings are similar to findings from previous Commonwealth Compact studies as well.

Georgianna Meléndez, executive director of the Commonwealth Compact, said that what the organization’s studies show is that the real battle line for increasing diversity in Boston is not at the entry level, but at the executive level, which she calls the C-suite jobs — executives, vice presidents, directors and board members.

According to Meléndez, companies are often shocked when they report strong numbers of diversity in hiring but then find out from these employees that they do not feel included in the company or supported to move into leadership positions and would leave the company for other similar or higher-paying jobs immediately.

“Hiring people and paying them well is not enough,” Meléndez said. “When you bring someone in you have to onboard them properly — find out how they fit in with what they do and listen to them and include them in key decisions.

“No organization will gain anything if they appoint people based on their race or gender and not look at how their skillset fits. We don’t think that tokenism works,” she added. “Companies like to think that everybody has the opportunity to move up — but that is really not true.”

The Commonwealth Compact is also part of the Inclusive Boston Alliance — along with groups such as the Urban League, NAACP and the Salvation Army — which is an organization looking at how Mayor Walsh prioritizes issues that impact communities of color and tracking how he delivers on his promise to have a 50 percent diverse administration.

“The goal is over time it will have an impact and we will see some changes at the C-suite level,” Meléndez said. “People still perceive us as a racist state and that has a lot to do with who is in power.