Increasing representation of racial minorities in business media obscures ongoing racial inequities in Corporate America

Minoritized representation in Fortune, Forbes, and Money magazines was more likely when “diversity” was mentioned and in roles with less power and authority 

Reviewed by Penny Sun


As principles of diversity and inclusion become more explicit within Corporate America, there remains a discrepancy between commitments to and actualization of racial parity in corporations, particularly among corporate leadership. In this article, the authors evaluate corporate policies and contrast legally enforceable Affirmative Action policies that acknowledge the history and disparate impacts of slavery and Jim Crow era with “diversity” programs that narrowly celebrate the presence of differences, including and beyond race. This shift toward “diversity” initiatives co-opted the language and moral imperative of redistributive efforts while abstracting from the enforceable policies and actions necessary to address the systematic roots of racial inequity.

To understand the impact of diversity programs on corporate culture, the authors examined minoritized representation within Forbes, Fortune, and Money magazines. These 3 popular business magazines publicly reflect ways corporations think about race, while also reflexively informing corporate beliefs, and thus practices, related to race. The authors conclude that the features of minoritized representation across these magazines demonstrates the lip service of corporations about racial equity and set the bar at simply diversity, rather than inclusion or equity. This makes visible diversity a significant strategy to meet “sufficient” racial progress metrics.

Crystal L. Jackson received her PhD in Sociology from Loyola University. David G. Embrick is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies and Director for the Sustainable Global Cities Initiative at University of Connecticut. Carol S. Walther is an Associate Professor of Social Science Research, Learning Lab Coordinator, and Honors Faculty Fellow at Northern Illinois University.

Methods and Findings

To study minoritized representation in Corporate America, the authors analyzed patterns of minority representation in Forbes, Fortune, and Money magazine between 1997 and 2007. The authors examined patterns quantitatively (e.g., frequency of certain words or subjects) and qualitatively (e.g., how racial minorities were represented in images). Analysis revolved around non-white representation variation across time, page type (editorial, advertisement or front page),  and content (e.g., the presence of a dedicated diversity or international focus within an issue).

Quantitatively, using negative binomial regression analysis, the authors found that minoritized representation differed between editorials and advertisements. For editorials, minoritized representation increased significantly when there was representation on the magazine cover (56% – 70% increase) and when the issue had a dedicated diversity section (21% – 56% increase). For advertisements, minoritized representation increased significantly over time (3% – 3.5% per year) and when the issue had a dedicated diversity section (49% increase). This study positions Fortune as most closely aligned with corporate culture based on its readership, followed by Forbes and then Money, which this study considers least reflective of corporate culture. When controlling for the presence of a dedicated diversity section, the level of representation of racial minorities mirrored this relationship. Fortune is significantly more likely than Forbes to have greater representation of racial minorities, and both magazines significantly ahead of Money in frequency of representation.

Qualitatively, the authors noted although non-white representation has increased in business media over time, these images infrequently show racial minorities in positions of power. When a non-white leader is featured in an editorial, the authors also find that the content centers on their presence as evidence of “diversity” rather than on their impact as a corporate leader. The authors propose this difference in leadership versus ancillary representation is particularly relevant in light of previous research. Previous findings show that whites consider numerical representation reflects full realization of diversity objectives, while non-whites more heavily weigh the level of inclusion that racial minorities actually experience, particularly within decision-making positions.


The authors conclude that featuring racial minorities in business media is more likely when “diversity” is the topic of focus, and is more prevalent in depictions of ancillary roles, rather than leadership. The authors note that the increased frequency of any minoritized representation in Fortune, Forbes, and Money magazines subtly reinforces a prevailing view that “diversity” has already been achieved, thereby diverting substantive discussion of the  racial inequality that persists in Corporate America. 

The authors also contextualized the increasing importance of “diversity” in Corporate America within a broader political and social shift away from legal enforcement of Affirmative Action. On the surface, the focus on “diversity” signaled a broadening of focus from race to all forms of social exclusion; however, this rhetorical shift dilutes attention from the incomplete work of achieving racial parity. Altogether, these findings show that minoritized representations in these public media may serve to produce confirmation bias that “diversity” has been achieved and short circuit deeper analysis of persisting racial inequality in corporate America.

Though compelling, this research is now almost 15 years old. Thus, further research should be done over the current time period. That research could also expand on this analysis by including the broader range of business media, both print and digital, available today.


Thank you for visiting RRAPP

Please help us improve the site by answering three short questions.