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Jews and Corporate America: Still Outsiders by Dr. Abraham Korman
Jews and Corporate America: Still Outsiders by Dr. Abraham Korman

Volume 2 , Issue 1

Despite their success as entrepreneurs and as managers of the organizations they themselves create, Jewish Americans are generally absent from the executive suite of corporate America. In research I have recently completed I have found that the situation today is little different from that of a half-century ago.

In the major structural industries of America, i.e. oil, automobiles, chemicals, steel, etc. and in many of our major service industries, i.e. commercial banking, public utilities, airline and transportation, etc. the pattern is clear. The larger the industry and the larger the company in terms of annual sales and/or the number of employees, the less likely it is that Jews will be recruited, selected or promoted. The major exception to this pattern comes mostly in those companies which were founded by a Jewish family and/or where there has remained a strong Jewish identification. Outside of these organizations which constitute an extremely small percentage of corporate America, Jews remain virtually unknown in the executive suite of corporate American industry.

The paradoxical nature of the success of Jewish Americans in developing and managing their own businesses as compared to the unwillingness of much of corporate America to allow Jews into executive careers assumes even greater significance when we realize that it has taken place against a background of increasing competition from foreign industries (which have posed major challenges to corporate America) and vast changes in civil-rights attitudes and laws in this country. The impact of such factors on the willingness of corporate America to recruit, select and promote Jews into executive careers has been minimal. Furthermore, the paradox becomes even more puzzling when we realize it has occurred without major challenge from either major organizations in the Jewish community or, with rare exceptions, from American Jews in general. Basically, there seems to be little interest or concern about this state of affairs in the Jewish American community. Instead, Jews continue to point to their success in the world of academia, their strong representation in such professions as medicine, law and accounting, and to their prominence in both the artistic and business aspects of the arts and entertainment fields. Ignored are the factors that are apparently keeping them from managerial and executive careers in industries which have enormous economic and social power and which employ millions of people. For Jews, male and female, who are oriented towards managerial careers, there apparently continues to remain barriers, either imposed by others and, sometimes, self-imposed, which keep them from senior management levels in most of corporate America. This is in spite of the fact that it is sometimes the case that Jews may be found in such industries and companies in professional and staff occupations and as ?outside professionals?. Adding further to the puzzling lack of interest in this situation among Jewish Americans and as a further paradox in the relationship between Jews and corporate America is the fact that, with rare exception, employment programs which have the effect of limiting professional and other job opportunities for Jews have been instituted without significant protest from large segments of the Jewish American community and, frequently, with their support. Such inconsistencies are particularly puzzling at a time when the needs of corporate America for skilled manpower at all levels and in all occupational groups is greater than it has ever been.

Accounting for the Paradox

How does one account for these inconsistencies and paradoxes in the actions of both Jews and non-Jews? One possibility for which there is considerable evidence is that despite their financial growth and their increasing willingness to vocalize their needs publicly, there remains an underlying belief among both Jews and non-Jews that Jews continue to be outsiders in American culture and in the American work setting. The implications of outsider status are considerable. Outsiders, social psychological research has shown, are less likely to be accepted for careers, positions and social roles that call for extensive personal and social interaction and it is precisely these latter demands that are key to managerial and executive positions. At the same time, it is also because Jewish Americans have themselves accepted their role as outsiders that they have not protested their lack of acceptance as managers and executives and have instead opted for professional and entrepreneurial careers which do not pose a challenge to these patterns. Similarly, it is also due to this self-perceived view of themselves as outsiders that has made Jews loath to challenge private-sector and governmental employment policies and practices in the area of affirmative-action which have led to reverse-discrimination against Jewish and other non-minority job applicants.

As a result of these views of Jews as outsiders, views that have also been accepted by Jewish Americans, there has been a reluctance among large numbers of corporate employers to recruit, select and promote Jewish for those careers, e.g. managerial and executive paths, which call for ?insider status? and social acceptability while at the same time retaining a willingness to recruit the same individuals for positions that do not require social acceptability, e.g. professional and staff positions. In addition, there has also been an apparent willingness within significant segments of corporate America, educational institutions, and agencies of the Federal Government, particularly in their interactions with Arab nations, to discriminate against Jews in order to attain economic benefits (since as ?outsiders? Jews do not receive the benefits of being a ?member of the family?). Particularly interesting here is that there is evidence that such discriminatory actions may have occurred without any particular request from an Arab nation.

Corporate America's Illusions

These patterns indicate that current realities of the American occupational opportunity structure for Jews do not match the contemporary mythologies of an open society (whether self-developed mythologies or developed by others) and that corporate America continues to harbor attitudes and illusions concerning Jews that have hampered it and America's ability to function effectively in an increasingly competitive world. There are also strong indications that these problems will assume increasing practical significance for coming generations of Jews and other Americans as many of the most traditional professions (which have been open to Jews) continue to decrease in their market availability and potential value. In other words, the preferences of Jews for such self-controlled occupations as the professions may become increasingly dysfunctional and prognostic of occupational difficulty rather than occupational success.

These labor-market changes and increasing competitive pressures on American industry from abroad make it crucial that our managerial and executive work force reflect our most competent individuals, regardless of background, gender and group membership. We need to insist on human resource management practices that focus on increasing individual and organizational effectiveness, rather than reflecting the types of attitudes that have led to the exclusion of Jews from corporate America In brief, two social institutions need to change their views concerning appropriate careers for coming generations of Jewish Americans, i.e. corporate America and the Jewish American community. Such changes are important for both these groups and for other outsider groups in American society who may be faced with similar problems in the years to come. Yet, despite their desirability, it is a moot point at this time as to whether these changes will actually occur.



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