It is true that the demographics of professionals in corporate America has evolved significantly since the 70s. But, if you take a look at the number of African American leaders currently in roles of corporate influence, you can count the results on your fingers. According to Fortune, there have been only 15 black CEOs in the history of the Fortune 500 – five are currently in the role as of January 2016.
When you’re an African American male, who is a college dean and former engineer at a Fortune 500 company, you are keenly aware of the impact of diversity initiatives. And if you add becoming a small business owner to your career portfolio, you add another layer of cultural acceptance that you have to navigate. You even start to question why corporate America hasn’t moved the needle much on this issue in the last three decades.
Meet Associate Dean of Business and Professional Services at Harold Washington College in Chicago, Dr. C. Adam Callery. Dr. Callery is also the owner of Sagesse Lumiere, a small business coaching firm in Chicago. He has been on the receiving end of diversity initiatives as an employee in the 80s and 90s. Now, he is an active proponent of the advancement of diversity and inclusion, being a leader in higher education. Over the last 30 years, Dr. Callery has attended many events where the topic of conversation was diversity. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the faces of leadership in corporate America have changed much since his first corporate position in the 80s.
Black Enterprise caught up with Dr. Callery to uncover his insights on diversity and how we can move forward given what we know now.
Black Enterprise: What’s the difference between racial diversity and inclusion in corporate America?
Dr. Callery: Race is visible to the eye. Inclusion is truly understanding and adjusting to another’s interests, culture and/or values. If you are on the hiring end, you have to change the way that you ask questions. This means that you can’t just provide skills based questions—you have to include questions around behaviors and interests in order to assess if the person is a good fit for the organization.
BE: What can employers do to promote an inclusive work environment?
Dr. Callery: If you want to be fully inclusive, you have to try to understand values that may be different from yours. Differences are not bad; the unique value proposition someone offers through their skills and interests can be just what a company needs in order to achieve their goals.
BE: How do we make diversity and inclusion a business imperative or an industry standard?
Dr. Callery: It has become a business imperative, because our society has become more inclusive. Many of our traditional organizations are trying to catch up to the social advancements that the world has embraced. Because of social media and its transparency, societies have been wrestling with the issue of inclusiveness, and now everything has been fully disclosed. The newer generations entering the workforce have embraced these changes faster than the older generations, who are used to things being the way they have been before.
BE: Who is responsible for building a diverse workforce in corporate America?
Dr. Callery: The usual suspects are government, congress, and senators—they need to be actively involved. They receive tax dollars that need to be allocated towards certain things, such as job training skills. Workforce development programs need to be able to help people obtain transferable work skills. Corporations need to be willing to train their people.
Corporations and government are the drivers to advancing diversity in the workplace. Nonprofits are more reactionary. They need the funding from these institutions in order to fulfill their mission.
BE: How can corporations advance diversity in the workplace?
Dr. Callery: Corporations used to have training programs, which we now call “on-boarding.” That isn’t enough for the average employee to be positioned to be successful at the company. Employers have to help their employees understand the cultures of the recruits they bring on board. Employers should teach employees the way that they do things, so that everyone can perform well on the job.
Corporations also need to look beyond their natural catchment areas where they go to find new hires. They tend to go to preferred colleges, thus clustering hires from specific regions instead of broadening selections from a larger group of colleges. Corporations need to be more flexible and expand their diversity strategy.