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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Racism has long festered in workplaces, keeping black workers out of positions of power in every single industry.

Why it matters: Unequal opportunities at work contribute to the massive wealth gap between white and black America.

The big picture: There are structural inequalities built into recruitment, hiring and promotion that keep black professionals from advancing in every sector. The number of black students graduating from colleges and business schools has been rising, but black representation in the C-suite remains abysmally low.

  • Black adults make up 10% of college grads and 8% of professionals, but just 3.2% of executives or senior-level managers and just 0.8% — or four — of Fortune 500 CEOs, according to a recent study from the Center for Talent Innovation.
  • 42% of Americans say they have witnessed or experienced racism in the workplace, per a 2019 Glassdoor survey.

What's happening: "Workplaces haven’t adapted to the multiracial workforces that we see now," says Adia Harvey Wingfield, a sociology professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an adviser on the Center for Talent Innovation study.

  • Most of the people doing the hiring in corporate America are white, and often recruitment and hiring are based on who you know. "For many white people, their networks are extremely homogeneous," she says. "That presents a problem in even getting into these industries."
  • Multiple studies have shown that biases are baked into recruitment, with hiring managers demonstrating preferences for resumes that have white-sounding names.

But "hiring is just where we start," says Wingfield. Even after they are hired, workers of color, especially black workers, are often alienated by an exclusionary workplace culture.

  • Culture includes everything from what sorts of hairstyles are considered "professional" (it's typically white Western styles) to where off-site gatherings are held — for example, country clubs, which are overwhelmingly white, could feel exclusionary to workers of color, she says.

Climbing the ranks at American companies also often depends on whom you know.

  • "Advancement is built on networks and mentoring and sponsorships in ways that can easily leave black workers behind," Wingfield says. And people in positions of power typically choose to mentor and promote those who look like them.
  • In the Center for Talent Innovation study, 34% of black men said they had access to senior leaders at work, compared with 49% of white men. For black and white women, it was 30% and 40%, respectively.

What's next: One part of the problem is that these issues are rarely discussed in workplaces, experts tell Axios. "There is a real discomfort to talk about the aspects of culture that are detrimental to workers of color or black workers in particular," Wingfield says.

  • But these deep-rooted problems won't go away without uncomfortable conversations and formal reviews of the policies that determine recruitment, retention and promotion at firms, says Rashawn Ray, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland and fellow at the Brookings Institution.
  • "I don’t think there’s such a thing as too late," he says. "But it’s not enough to diversify your workforce if the people that are at the decision-making table don't have diverse perspectives."

Go deeper

SurveyMonkey poll: Suburbs and the safety wedge

Data: SurveyMonkey poll of 35,732 U.S. adults conducted Aug. 31 to Sept. 6, 2020 with ±1% margin of error; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

White suburbanites who feel "very safe" in their communities are more likely to favor Joe Biden, while those who feel only somewhat safe move toward President Trump, according to new SurveyMonkey polling for Axios.

Why it matters: The findings help illuminate how Trump is using safety as a wedge issue ahead of the election — and why he's fanning fears of violent protests bleeding into the suburbs.

CPAC Republicans choose conservatism over constituents

Rep. Matt Gaetz. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

CPAC proved such a draw, conservative Republicans chose the conference over their constituents.

Why it matters: More than a dozen House Republicans voted by proxy on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill in Washington so they could speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. And Sen. Ted Cruz skipped an Air Force One flight as President Biden flew to Cruz's hometown of Houston to survey storm damage.

Border Democrat warns Biden about immigrant fallout

Henry Cuellar (right). Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

A Democratic lawmaker representing a border district warned the Biden administration against easing up too much on unauthorized immigrants, citing their impact on his constituents, local hospitals and their potential to spread the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told Axios he supports President Biden. But the moderate said he sees the downsides of efforts to placate pro-immigrant groups, an effort that threatens to blow up on the administration.