The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Equal Opportunity and African Americans - Fact Sheet

Americans for a Fair Chance - January 1, 2004

Equal opportunity is a tool to provide qualified individuals with equal access to opportunities. Equal opportunity programs, including recruitment, outreach, and training initiatives, have played a critical role in providing African Americans with access to educational and professional opportunities they would otherwise have been denied despite their strong qualifications.

Although progress has been made over the last 30 years, ensuring equal opportunity for African Americans remains an elusive goal. Continued use of equal opportunity programs is necessary to help break down barriers to opportunity and ensure that all Americans have a fair chance to demonstrate their talents and abilities. Consider the following facts:

Pay Inequity

  • In 2001, the average per capita income was $24,142 for whites and $15,269 for blacks. ("Income in the United States: 2002," U.S. Census Bureau, Table 4, May 2002)
  • College-educated African-American women annually earn approximately $800 more than white male high school graduates and $17,727 less than college-educated white men. ("Money Income in the United States," U.S. Census Bureau, Table 10, September 2000)
  • In 2001, 22.7 percent of the African-American population lived in poverty, whereas 7.8 percent of white Americans lived in poverty. ("The Black Population in the United States: March 2002," U.S. Census Bureau, Figure 9, April 2003)

Barriers to Equality

  • The percentage of white males over age 25 who had earned at least a bachelor's degree was 31.8 percent in 2000. For black men, it was 16.4 percent. The percentage of white women who earned a bachelor's degree or higher was 27.3 percent, and for black women it was 17.5 percent. ("The Black Population in the United States: March 2002," U.S. Census Bureau, April 2003)
  • Although the representation of African Americans sitting on corporate boards has climbed 4 percent since 1999, African-American men and women held just 388 of 11,500 Fortune 1000 board seats in 2002. (Microquest White Paper: Shattering The Glass Ceiling, 2002)

Equal opportunity programs in education ensure that qualified African-American men and women have equal access to higher education.

  • Equal opportunity programs have worked to increase diversity and correct patterns of discrimination. As a result of such initiatives, African Americans showed the largest increase in the number of doctoral degrees awarded from 1990 to 2000; however African Americans still account for only 5.1 percent of all doctoral degrees earned. (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003)
  • Between 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, African Americans experienced a 6 percent increase in associate degrees earned, a 3 percent rise in bachelor's degrees earned, and a 6.7 percent gain in master's degrees earned. However, overall from 1998 to 2000, only 39.7 percent of African-American high school graduates attended college, as compared to 45.6 percent of white high school graduates. (Twentieth Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education, American Council on Education, 2003)

Although progress has been made in achieving equality, research indicates that programs are still needed to ensure equal opportunity at the corporate level.

  • IBM's equal opportunity program highlights early identification of employees with high leadership potential, broadening career opportunities, and recruiting qualified employees from a diversity of backgrounds. Central to IBM's Executive Resources program is the idea that recruiting, training, and retaining talented minorities is the responsibility of IBM's management, from the CEO down through second line managers. From January 1996 to March 2001, the percentage of minority executives increased 170 percent - from 117 to 316 officials. (IBM, June 2002)
  • Prior to the Supreme Court's ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, 65 Fortune 500 companies filed an amicus brief in favor of equal opportunity programs in higher education. The brief states, "The need for diversity in higher education is indeed compelling. Because our population is diverse, and because of the increasingly global reach of American business, the skills and training needed to succeed in business today demand exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas and viewpoints." The brief cites several companies that have increased minority representation, including Microsoft Corporation, whose minority domestic workforce increased from 16.8 percent in 1997 to 25.6 percent in February 2003. (Brief for Amici Curiae, 65 Leading American Businesses in Support of Respondents, Grutter v. Bollinger, 2003)
  • Although the number of women of color in Fortune 1000 companies has increased for the past decade, research shows that not even half of those women of color (44 percent) believe that they have an equal chance for promotion within their companies. ("Making the Case for Affirmative Action: Women of Color in Corporate America,"Center for Women Policy Studies, 2001)

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