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African-American Women Chip Away at `Concrete' Ceiling

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THE term ``glass ceiling'' has become increasingly familiar. It refers to the obstacles women face in reaching upper-management positions in corporations. But experts say the ceiling is even harder for African-American women to crack.

``When you're talking about a glass ceiling, black women are saying they are facing a concrete wall,'' says Stella Nkomo, a professor of management at the University of North Carolina and a Bunting fellow at Radcliffe College.

``To understand this, you have to understand that sexism is overlayed with racism,'' she says.

Ms. Nkomo was asked by Joyce Miller, executive director of the United States Department of Labor's Commission on the Glass Ceiling, to undertake a study of the impact of the glass ceiling on black women. Ongoing resistance

``When anyone says women are not affected or have gone beyond the glass ceiling, that's ridiculous,'' Ms. Miller says. A founder of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and a former vice president of the AFL-CIO executive council, she visited Radcliffe College last week to talk about the barriers to career advancement that minorities and women face.

When Miller was appointed executive director last spring by Labor Secretary Robert Reich, the commission, established under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, was relatively inactive. Under Miller, the commission began 17 research projects on various aspects of employment discrimination.

The commission will start releasing its findings early next year and will present a final report to President Clinton and Congress in January 1995.

One of these research projects focuses on how the glass ceiling affects white women; another on the broader topic of ``race, gender, and ethnicity.''

``The barriers for [black and white] women are similar and dissimilar,'' Nkomo says. ``There's the sexism that all women face, and then there's the racism that's added for women of color.''

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