Black History Month: The Role of Corporations in Advancing Equality

Black History Month honors the legacy of the women and men who were pioneers in advancing civil and equal rights. It is a time to celebrate the progress in leveling the playing field for people of color, and to acknowledge that we have a long way to go to achieve true parity in both the workplace and in society as a whole.

The American landscape is rapidly changing. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2045, the U.S. will be “minority white,” with an estimated 49.7 percent of the population identifying as white. Suffice it to say that the diversity makeup of our country should be reflected in corporate leadership — and there is much work to be done to achieve this goal. For example, McKinsey found that although Black Americans make up 10 percent of graduates, only 4 percent hold executive positions. The report documents that Black women are especially underrepresented in corporate leadership, and face a “double burden of bias” across gender and race, making a path to becoming CEO even more challenging.

There is more evidence in the 2018 Lean-In-McKinsey Women in the Workplace study that found that Black women receive the least support from their corporate leaders among any gender and racial group. 41 percent of Black women reported that they have never interacted with senior leaders, compared to 27 percent of men across races. And 35 percent of Black women compared to 45 percent of men.

Although the reports of representation are disappointing, the increase in the number of companies seeing the value in diversifying their leadership is encouraging. In 2017, ethnic minorities made up 10.6 percent of board directors in the S&P 1500, a 10-year high. 50 S&P companies had at least four minority directors, up from 48 in 2016 and 41 in 2015.

Companies whose employees are representative of the population at-large are recognizing that diversity fosters a greater exchange of creative ideas. In fact — bringing more employees of color to the table actually benefits the bottom line. The McKinsey study cited above, which involved more than 1,000 companies spanning 12 countries, found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity in senior leadership were 33 percent more profitable than their peers.

The benefits of applying a diversity lens to recruitment and retention policies are becoming more apparent. As a result, a greater number of companies and shareholders are looking to expand and improve their D&I initiatives to attract employees of color and promote existing talent of color to senior positions.

The Paradigm for Parity® designed its Five-Point Action Plan with the goal of accelerating gender parity for women of all backgrounds in corporate leadership. From eliminating unconscious bias in hiring to creating mentorship programs, the action plan can serve as a blueprint for companies looking to improve their diversity and inclusion practices. As evidence, several Paradigm for Parity® coalition member companies shared their experience hiring and retaining diverse talent.

Black History Month celebrates the accomplishments in advancing civil and equal rights in this country, while acknowledging that there is still much to be done. Companies understand that they have a major role to play by advancing their policies to ensure a more inclusive and diverse workforce. This is the right thing for their businesses, their employees and for achieving true parity in society.