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Is Diversity Declining in Top Professions?


A half-century after the advent of affirmative action, diversity in the nation’s top professions appears to be stagnating. An analysis by the New York Times includes startling figures showing that the percentage of black doctors and architects, to name a couple fields, has remained the same for two decades.

The data calls into question the efficacy of the affirmative action policy and why minorities – blacks specifically – gained ground in some of the most elite jobs. Barely more than 1 percent of the country’s Fortune 500 companies are led by black execs, the NYT report says. And African-Americans only hold 3.2 percent of senior level jobs at some of the biggest corporations.

The National Association for Law Placement began keeping track of diversity stats in 1993, particularly for law firms, which remain predominantly white and male. After slow gains, the percentage of minorities in the legal field actually dropped in 2010. Analysts blame the Great Recession, which disproportionately impacted women and minorities in virtually every field, in part because companies focused less on diversity recruitment.

There’s a political shift, too. Several states in recent years have fought to ban affirmative action, including New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Arizona, according to USA Today.

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Twelve percent of the U.S. labor force is black, but only 5 percent of doctors and dentists and 3 percent of architects. Those ratios haven’t changed since the early 1990s, according to a NYT analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. 

Meanwhile, the nation awaits a decision on affirmative action in higher education from the U.S. Supreme Court, says a report by Inside Higher Ed.

“The issue is important because one argument offered to defend the consideration of race and ethnicity by elite colleges and universities is that these institutions provide a pathway to prestigious careers,” the blog post reads. 

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(Photo Credit: c OregonDOT – Flickr)
Jennifer Wadsworth
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