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Good for Business: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital

The Environmental Scan: A Fact-Finding Report of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission Washington, D.C.

March, 1995

The term glass ceiling was popularized in a 1986 Wall Street Journal article describing the invisible barriers that women confront as they approach the top of the corporate hierarchy.

The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, a 21-member bipartisan body appointed by President Bush and Congressional leaders and chaired by the Secretary of Labor, was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Its mandate was to identify the glass ceiling barriers that have blocked the advance-ment of minorities and women as well as the suc-cessful practices and policies that have led to the advancement of minority men and all women into decisionmaking positions in the private sector.

The Commission was specifically directed—

  • to conduct a study of opportunities for, and artificial barriers to, the advancement of minority men and all women into man-agement and decisionmaking positions in Corporate America, and
  • to prepare and submit to the President and the appropriate committees of the Congress written reports containing the findings and conclusions resulting from the study and the recommendations based on those findings and conclusions.


Glass ceiling issues are about business and about people who work in business. Therefore, for the first report, the findings and conclusions are pre-sented in an "Environmental Scan." The second report will contain recommendations and will be a "Strategic Plan."

Report One: The Environmental Scan This document, The Environmental Scan, presents the findings of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission resulting from research by its consor-tium of consultants, commission hearings, studies, interviews, focus groups, and panel discussions — as well as its review of other public and private research.

The Environmental Scan describes and analyzes the barriers identified in existing research, independent studies, and Department of Labor surveys, as well as information gathered in the minority male executive focus groups, the American Indian focus groups, the CEO survey interviews, and the five public hearings. It also identifies and outlines strategies and practices that have been employed successfully to promote the advancement of minorities and women to senior-level positions in the private sector. These examples emerged from Commission research conducted by Catalyst and from the Commission's work in preparing for the Frances Perkins—Elizabeth Hanford Dole National Award for Diversity and Excellence in American Executive Management.

Finally, The Environmental Scan summarizes the perceptions of corporate leaders and minorities and women in the private sector and presents available quantitative data that supports or refutes them.

Emphasis is placed on perceptions because perceptions, true or not, perpetuate the existence of the glass ceiling barrier. Perceptions are what people believe and people translate their beliefs into behaviors, attitudes, and bias. Many judgments on hiring and promotion are made on the basis of a look, the shape of a body, or the color of skin. A 1992 report on a number of the nation's most progressive businesses and institutions, The New Leaders: Guidelines on Leadership Diversity in America by Ann M. Morrison, revealed that prejudice against minorities and white women continues to be the single most important barrier to their advancement into the executive ranks. For this reason, this report explores the perceptions of employers and employees, outlines the popular stereotypes, and then contrasts them with the research data and findings that delineate the realities and status of minority men and all the women who are affected by the glass ceiling.

Much of the qualitative information on perceptions is drawn directly from transcripts of the Commission's five public hearings, the CEO Survey, the minority executive focus groups, and the American Indian focus groups. The quantitative data is based on private surveys and Commission research and on extensive analyses of U.S. Department of Census data, analyses prepared expressly for the Commission. Specific sources are cited in the body of this report.

Report Two: A Strategic Plan A second report will present the Commission's recommendations based on its findings. These recommendations will form a "Strategic Plan" that will be presented to the President and the Congress in the Summer of 1995.

The recommendations will speak to the imperative of dismantling artificial barriers to advancement. The recommendations will be designed to assure equitable opportunity for white men, minorities, and women.

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