Many black, Latina and Asian women say they want C-Suite roles. What’s holding them back?

When Alissa Johnson, one of Xerox ’s XRX +0.00% most senior minority female executives, mentors women of color, she tells them to forget their comfort zone. With a shortage of female executives—especially in technology roles—she is often the only minority and the only woman in meetings.

“Everyone wants one person to break in and bring the rest of us along,” says Ms. Johnson, chief information security officer at Xerox, who previously was deputy chief information officer at the White House.

But so far it hasn’t worked out that way. As female executives of color, including Ms. Johnson, reach the upper echelons of large corporations, plenty more say they want to be there but can’t find a way.

When it comes to corporate ambition, women of color are far more likely than white women to say they aspire to a top executive role, according to a new study from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co., which surveyed 70,000 women and men in North America. Yet black, Latina and Asian women still hold only 3% of C-suite roles, compared with 16.7% of entry-level roles, the study found.

Black women are most likely to say they don’t have interactions with top bosses, and only 23% say managers help them navigate organizational politics, compared with 36% of white women, according to the data. Those figures have remained largely unchanged in the past three years.

One reason for these struggles is blind spots at the management level, says John Rice, founder of Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a nonprofit focused on increasing diversity at the top of the business world.

Some managers don’t realize that minority women often face extra hurdles to succeed, he says. And women of color moving up the ladder generally don’t have the same informal networks as white male counterparts who may meet for a round of golf or a drink after a long day at the office, Mr. Rice says.

Managers need to be explicit about what it takes to succeed rather than doling out information during the kinds of informal interactions that leave out women of color, he says. “They can make what we would call the ‘high-performance-bar playbook’ much more transparent,” says Mr. Rice. One fix is for companies to level the playing field by offering day-to-day coaching that can be tapped into more frequently than formal mentorships, he adds.

By: Alina Dizik