African-Americans have been working hard from the first days our ancestors saw these shores, yet we have yet to reach full representation in many of our nation’s leading industries. Forty years after the civil rights movement, our level of representation in many fields lags severely behind our percentage of the general population. The good news is that more leaders in these fields are taking diversity seriously, which can be a boon for blacks in the coming decades. Industry watch dogs, political organizations and professional groups are pressuring hiring managers to step up minority recruitment and retention efforts.
Black have been underrepresented in the following fields for years, but now there is an emphasis on rectifying the problem. The top ten careers in which African-Americans are underrepresented ironically point the way out of limiting employment scenarios onto new paths:
African-American men are underrepresented in teaching at an alarming rate, making up only two percent of all educators. Concurrently, young black men are in an education crisis, suffering from high drop-out rates and earning test scores far below the national average. Advocates such as Spike Lee believe that the only solution for our male youth in peril is for more black men to lead them in the class room. Many states agree, which has led to recruitment efforts targeted specifically at African-American men.
In 2005, the numbers of black students enrolling in law school reached a record low, according to Black Enterprise. Plus it was found that blacks consistently failed to reach the most lucrative levels of the profession. Sadly, not much has changed in recent years. Efforts are now being made to lower the rate of minorities that leave law firms before they can become partners, but the field is wide open for greater African-American participation.
3. Science & Technology
Blacks are also scarce in the STEM professions, an acronym that refers to the interrelated fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Experts agree that the reasons for this are twofold. One is the need for better education for African-Americans from a much earlier age. The second prong of the problem is the cost of quality education. Too often, black students drop out of college because of financial pressures, making a STEM career impossible. Numerous organizations are working to correct these issues; in the meantime it is worth the effort to encourage our students to overcome these barriers. STEM careers, such as engineering, are some of the most stable, rewarding, and lucrative.
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According to TheRoot.com, Blacks are acquiring PhDs at a rate that is higher than ever before. Unfortunately, minorities are kept out of academic jobs at the top levels. Minorities represent fewer than 7% of all full professorships according to a special report on Nature.com, while we account for 16% of graduating science PhDs. This exclusion harms African-Americans in academia and creates a vacuum of mentors for black students entering universities. On a positive note, institutions of higher learning are making greater efforts employ more blacks. Seize this advantage through perseverance and proper training.
5. College Athletics
African-Americans are woefully underrepresented in college athletics on all levels, ranging from coaching to program directorships. Blacks within the field are often regulated to areas that do not feed into higher positions, and are judged more harshly than their white counterparts. Diversity in college athletics is highly monitored, which has led to steady improvement within the profession. The recognition that more black hiring is essential means that blacks have a greater ability than ever to diversify the field.
Civil rights and ad industry leaders have called out the advertising industry for being almost 40% more discriminatory than the general job marketplace. Tragically, the situation is worse today than it was 30 years ago. The lack of black representation is so stark, it would take the hiring of over 7,000 African-American executives to achieve an acceptable level of diversity. Blacks interested in advertising would face a steep climb, but the numbers show this industry sorely needs us.
Construction tends to be a union-driven industry based on contacts and an old boy network mentality. As a result, African-American firms tend to be shut out of the bidding process for the largest of contracts, while black workers are paid less and receive the worst jobs. Many groups are studying these phenomena and putting pressure on government agencies and businesses to include more minorities for consideration on construction projects. This tends to be one of the most important industries for producing stable employment, so increasing our involvement must be a priority.
8. Media & Telecommunications
Whether it is web production or television, blacks tend to be absent from both the creative and executive media ranks. Recent motions by the FCC have sought to ensure that more minorities have access to starting cable channels, while industry watch dogs investigate why so few black technology firms receive adequate funding — yet these fields are still overwhelmingly controlled by white men. The over indexing of African-Americans as Twitter users points to the reality that there are many possibilities for blacks in media – but it is up to us to continue to push for greater inclusion.
9. Health Care
Currently, minorities make up 25% of the U.S. population, but only 10% of the health care force. As our nation moves towards greater diversity, there is a deep interest in the medical professions to ensure that quality health care can be administered with respect for all our cultural differences. Attempts have been made to address the need for more blacks in health care through mentoring programs and education assistance, but the field is still wide open for our greater – and greatly desired – participation.
Black America was scandalized when former Essence editor Angela Burt-Murray hired a white woman to be the fashion director of what many consider the bible of black beauty. This decision fit perfectly with our well-documented pattern of exclusion from fashion. Much remains to be done to address the perception that blacks do not have a refined sense of style that can sell to the masses, despite the revenue-generating effects African-American icons like First Lady Michelle Obama. Black style professionals, ranging from designers to photographers, need more African-Americans who are passionate about the business to push for greater integration in this field by entering it, and fighting for parity.
Diversity is not a politically correct dirty word that blacks use to force mainstream companies to accept us. The economic value of including blacks in typically homogenous environments has been well documented. Corporations that include more people of color have greater adaptability, provide an environment in which all voices are respected, and offer a greater range of products based on input from diverse perspectives. It is also imperative that industries relate more effectively to the consumers they serve, and have their target audiences on their payrolls, as the diversity of our nation explodes in the near future.
African-Americans are in a prime position to capitalize on these trends, expanding into professional arenas that heretofore have been barred. As more firms seek revolutionary means to generate new profits, African-Americans have more incentive than ever to push into pioneering careers.