As baby boomers prepare to retire from the job market and people of color make up an increasing
percentage of the country’s population, the changing demographics of the U.S. are forcing companies to examine how they recruit, develop, and retain diverse talent.
In Missouri, the St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative has focused on just that, emphasizing the importance of acknowledging the city’s talent of color and attracting a diverse pool of new talent in an ever-changing marketplace.
“By 2010, many of the baby boomers will be leaving the workforce,” says Valerie E. Patton, executive director of the Initiative. “By 2050, more than half the population will be brown, so diversity and inclusion are paramount.”
Formally launched in April 2001, the initiative is a private business collaboration funded by Civic Progress, an organization made up of 30 of the largest corporate entities in the St. Louis region.
Patton works with executives to make their offering packages more attractive. “Historically, we have been a manufacturing region, but the industrial demographic has changed,” Patton says. “The region has become more technology-driven. We’re looking to turn St. Louis into a mini financial hub.”
St. Louis is one of few municipalities across the country that has included diversity as a critical element to help the city’s economic engine thrive. “When you look at the city of St. Louis, it’s more than 50% African American,” Patton says, “but if you look at the C-level suites, unfortunately they are not representing the demographic of the region.”
Patton, who operates with just one other staff member on an annual budget of about $325,000, helps facilitate and foster relationships via monthly meetings with senior human resources executives in the area.
Three times a year, the program also helps welcome new executives of color who have just relocated to the region and provides a resource for them to network with community business professionals.
“I think there is a lot of renewed interest in diversity for a lot of external reasons and factors,” says Melanie Harrington, president of the Atlanta-based American Institute for Managing Diversity. Harrington references Thomas L. Friedman’s book The World Is Flat: A Brief
History of the Twenty-First Century (Picador; $16), explaining that in a “flattened world,” the global business atmosphere has become one where jobs are extremely portable, making diverse recruitment and retention vital. Harrington emphasizes that businesses must go after the best talent to remain competitive, even if that talent comes from nontraditional pools of employees. “Being able to access talent is critical,” Harrington says. “The sheer complexity of how business needs to be done means that the demand for highly skilled, highly educated talent requires that a business be able to access talent no matter how it comes packaged.”
The initiative also features a fellows program aimed at helping mid-level executives in advancing their career goals. To qualify, candidates must be nominated by a sponsor company and have seven to 10 years of managerial experience. The yearlong executive program is run by business faculty and introduces a range of topics, such as building leadership competency