Because people of color are growing faster than the American population as a whole and an entire generation of baby boomers are reaching retirement age, white America is going to depend increasingly on the talents and abilities of nonwhites to compete in today’s global marketplace. By 2024, Massachusetts alone will need to fill an estimated one million job openings – four-fifths of which are existing jobs vacated by a worker retiring, leaving the labor force for other reasons, or changing occupations and needing retraining. Moreover, consumers of color now make up more than a $4 trillion dollar consumer market.
If there is anything at all to enlightened self-interest, corporate America should now regard doing business with and employing culturally diverse people not solely as a moral imperative, but an economic one.
Some may argue that calling for greater diversity in business and employment is more appropriate for politicians and the government. However, American business is in a unique position to take action without being cajoled or constrained by government. Here are 10 things business can now do to expand economic opportunities for all Americans and themselves.
- Corporate talent.The vision, talent and resources of the chief executive offices of the largest US corporations are unparalleled. Bringing to bear their collective problem-solving skills could go a long way toward creating a proactive business climate that would both improve race relations and offer real solutions to the wealth disparity between whites and people of color.
- Support for diversity, equality, and inclusion in the “C Suites.” Corporate leaders should value inclusion as part of the normal conduct of doing business by appointing more women and people of color to corporate boards and all levels of the corporation from the mail room to the board room.
- Advocacy for better education.Business leaders should be the chief advocates for and financially support better primary and secondary education. With 10 percent of our population functionally illiterate, coupled with the shortage of skilled labor, education in the 21st century must become both a corporate and government imperative.
- Strong ties with minority CEOs.White business leaders should take the lead in establishing a CEO-to-CEO exchange program that matches CEOs of Fortune 100 and 500 companies with the CEOs of businesses owned by people of color. Interaction can be done in a mutually comfortable setting from the golf course to the dinner table in addition various communications channels from emails to Facetime.
- Better access to business opportunities. Corporate leaders should create robust diversity supplier programs with a clear, unequivocal message that doing business with minority-owned firms is a high priority and pair this with the in-house support necessary to assure success in this realm. It helps at the beginning to have tangible economic targets and to tie the performance appraisals of division heads who purchase goods and services for the corporation to meeting those targets.
- Proactive philanthropy.Corporate leaders should engage in philanthropy that is responsive to the challenges facing a diffuse society and the changing business environment. Corporate giving can no longer be done ad hoc. Proactive and venture philanthropy can both manage change as well as differentiate a company from its competitors.
- Government lobby.Business leaders should lobby government for creative, urban-focused business incentives from enterprise zones to tax offsets that encourage the development and expansion of small and mid-sized minority-owned business even when these incentives are not of direct benefit to the large corporate enterprise.
- Create partnerships.Develop functional partnerships and strategic alliances with organizations within minority communities that are committed to youth development and self -help programs.
- Support alternative transportation.Create alternative supplementary transportation systems to allow urban residents to take advantage of suburban employment opportunities.
- Support affordable housing options. Consider advocating for tax incentives that could be offered to employers that provide housing assistance to help their staff stay within municipal limits and consider investing in housing production trust funds that help finance more affordable housing.
By bringing people of all racial and ethnic groups more completely into the economic mainstream, corporate America will not only be moving us toward a more economically inclusive and equitable society, but will be making a sound investment in its own future.
Colette A.M. Phillips is president and CEO of Colette Phillips Communications Inc., a Boston Massachusetts PR and Diversity Communications firm. She moderated the BBJ’s Race Ahead Forum on Race, Business and Diversity.