Building a Better Pipeline for Black Professionals
By Erica Harris, Public Affairs Associate
Public Affairs Council
Race continues to be a barrier to economic mobility in the United States. Racist structures often lead to Black job candidates being overlooked for opportunities and/or their work overshadowed.
However, more and more companies have acknowledged the problem and, most important, are doing something about it. In celebration of Black History Month, we spoke to Council member organizations that are taking the intentional steps to ensure better outcomes and healthier pipelines for racially diverse talent.
Acknowledging the Inequalities
Americans see the disparity of career opportunities for Blacks compared to whites. According to a 2020 report by Gallup on the Black American Experience, “58% of Americans say Black and white adults have the same chances of getting any kind of job for which they are qualified.” This is the lowest percentage in over 40 years. Going deeper, according to McKinsey’s recent Race in the Workplace report, “Black employees make up 12 percent of entry-level employees … and account for just 7 percent of managers” in the private sector.
There’s clearly a lot to tackle when considering how to create a more equitable pipeline and workforce.
The organizations we spoke with are taking micro-level steps such as raising awareness, establishing programs and campaigns, and defining metrics in hopes of making macro-level changes to current trends in workforce diversity and inclusion.
There’s a cross-sector consensus that to attract diverse talent, organizations need to let minority communities know what opportunities might exist. Erin Streeter, executive vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), understands this. NAM’s workforce development campaign, Creators Wanted, developed in partnership with its workforce development and education partner, the Manufacturing Institute, was created because “many young people and their families are unaware of the great careers in modern manufacturing,” Streeter says. “Manufacturers have been telling us that hiring and retaining talent is one of their biggest challenges, and Creators Wanted is a solution to that challenge. It’s our industry’s national effort to inspire, educate and empower manufacturing workers of today and tomorrow.”
Rikki Amos, executive director of the International Franchising Association (IFA) Foundation, shares a similar sentiment. “The Diversity Institute housed inside of the IFA Foundation provides education, programs and tools to help minority and underserved communities find success within franchising. We’re working to build a community.”
The work of the IFA Foundation and NAM is a blueprint for the work that many organizations are now looking to do — ramp up conversation across diverse communities on how to best integrate their communities into sectors generally seen as led and driven by white people.
Focusing on Impact
For many organizations, identifying specific and measurable goals is essential to the development of diverse and inclusive workforce initiatives, and necessary to show impact. Without impact measures, these efforts are almost guaranteed to fall flat, leading to a great disservice to the communities they are intended to help.
The National Apartment Association (NAA) has created a program with clearly outlined goals to gauge impact. Over the past few years, NAA’s DEI Committee has taken a serious interest in expanding minority representation in the rental housing industry. In 2020, under the guidance of the DEI Committee, NAA created the Diversity Leadership Program, which provides up to 15 individuals of diverse backgrounds an opportunity to develop as leaders in the rental housing industry. Sara Keene, member programs director at NAA, explains that the program measures impact by two methods: alumni participation in NAA committees and a program post-assessment.” For example, says Keene, “through the Diversity Leadership Program capstone project, program participant Camron Shelton, regional director of Centerspace Homes, built a diversity and inclusion road map that increased diverse talent by 52%, which has been credited for taking meaningful DEI actions not seen before.”
By providing clarity and attaching goals to measurable actions, NAA connected community-level change to the efforts of the Diversity Leadership Program.
Nimble and Responsive
But this work isn’t cut and dried. Racist actions continue to plague minority communities, requiring organizations to remain nimble and responsive. There’s no way around it. To that end, the organizations we talked to often reshape programs to ensure responsiveness in challenging times.
For NAM, that meant creating a Pledge for Action in addition to Creators Wanted. “After the killing of George Floyd and the resulting national outcry, manufacturers felt strongly that business leaders had to be part of the solution,” says Streeter. “It had to be about actions, not just words. Our board, made up of more than 200 manufacturing leaders, unanimously adopted our Pledge for Action, which is manufacturers’ commitment to take 50,000 tangible actions to increase equity and parity for underrepresented communities and create 300,000 pathways to job opportunities for Black people and all people of color by 2025.”
IFA also saw “accelerated change,” according to Amos, after the murder of George Floyd, specifically in its Diversity Institute and its overall DEI work. Amos has seen continuous energy in two key areas: member dialogue and actionable partnerships. “We heard more members saying, ‘We want to have serious conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion. What does this look like across brands?’ We want to make sure the organization is healthier.” The IFA Foundation also saw a surge in franchisers seeking out partnerships with nonprofits that serve Black communities and historically Black colleges and universities. “Our franchisers understand that there’s a mutual opportunity for franchisers and students and Black professionals to connect with each other to achieve success,” Amos says. “Part of our growth strategy for the Diversity Institute is to ensure connection with diverse communities.”
Strength in Stakeholders
Organizations doing the work know that stakeholder buy-in is a key component to driving programs forward. Associations, corporations and consultancies all have a stakeholder base to account for when doing the work. This work in diversity, equity and inclusion is distinct from other verticals such as communications and consulting. As such, it requires that companies double down and commit, even if their efforts are sometimes received unfavorably. Fortunately for the organizations interviewed, stakeholder feedback across all three companies has been positive.
“Since the Diversity Leadership Program launched in 2020, there has been significant enthusiasm for the program — particularly among local NAA affiliates that want to engage alumni to develop their own DEI committees and resources,” Keene says.
NAM’s Streeter agrees. “Manufacturers are enthusiastic and fully committed to the goal of expanding opportunity and building the workforce of today and tomorrow,” she says. “Companies of all sizes are involved in Creators Wanted, from small businesses to household names across the country. We couldn’t operate a nationwide campaign like this without industry support.”
Amos says her stakeholders and the IFA Foundation agree about objectives and how to meet them. “We have an all-in strategy. Our members appreciate that,” she says. “As an association, we want people to understand that franchising is a force for good.”
So, what’s next for businesses and their public affairs teams?
Every sector must commit to dismantling the barriers that inhibit diversity. For the organizations that are doing the work, it’s important to stop and pulse-check every so often and ask yourself, “Is our work helping our communities?” It’s also important to highlight and celebrate the work; it raises awareness and shows your peers that you take it seriously. For organizations that aren’t so far along or are just getting started, it’s critical to have the hard conversations now if you intend to move toward equity and advance opportunity.
Related Article: What’s Next for More Diverse Corporate Boards?
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