Educational achievement is a more important indicator of why people are employed rather than race, the SA Institute of Race Relations (Sairr) said on Wednesday.
"The proportion of people by race in professional positions closely mirrors the proportion of people by race with professional qualifications," said research manager Lucy Holborn in a statement.
The data challenged the view that South African employers were resisting racial transformation in the workplace.
According to the data, there were about 41 percent of black people with degrees and there were 36 percent of blacks in professional positions.
There were 45 percent of white people with degrees or higher qualifications and there were 42 percent of them in professional positions.
"While a degree of racial prejudice exists in all societies, the data suggests that educational achievement will determine the pace of future employment equity progress in South Africa," she said.
Sairr sourced information from Statistics SA and the Commission for Employment Equity.