Diversity or Diversion?

Experts express their views about the effectiveness of diversity programs and offer suggestions on how to improve them

within corporate America?

HARRINGTON: I think there is a kind of backlash to efforts that are characterized as affirmative action, particularly as they relate to African Americans.

For example, African Americans are losing contracts to other groups that are now being defined as minority when a lot of the procurement programs were initially set up to bring in African Americans. In addition, there are real issues with the places that we have to go to [in order to] get contracts or good jobs because these places traditionally didn’t have African Americans in them. They were created for somebody else, so their structures fit their own preferences and conveniences. They like it like that.

HYSAW: Diversity is going to make it tougher for African Americans. Because it is going to become more inclusive, you’re really going to have to have standard metropolitan statistical analysis (SMSA), which does a 30 mile radius of a location to identify the ethnicity and demographic profile to determine what that metric should be, as a template, when you overlay it against your organization. Whether it’s your business partners who are responsible for procurement or supplier development, or whether it’s in-house, you’re going to have to overlay the template.

If you really start looking at the metrics, with the increase of Hispanics into this country and us becoming a minority amongst minorities, it’s going to get tougher.

MITCHELL: When you talk about the buying power of African Americans, you’re looking at some $500-plus billion of spending power. That’s an opportunity that businesses can’t afford to overlook. Whether businesses want to or not, they have to embrace diversity for Africa
n Americans.

African Americans [represent] 12.9% [of the U.S. population]. Companies can’t expect to do business with African Americans if they don’t reach out to them, employ them, or have programs to keep them once they employ them. If they don’t focus on African Americans, then they’re leaving a lot of money on the table. B.E.: From an intellectual standpoint, you are 100% correct. One would think you couldn’t possibly ignore people who make up a significant portion of the people who support your business. But why doesn’t that translate in practice?

 

WILLIAMS: We’re living in an environment where people do not believe that we need strong corrective measures in the workplace. Affirmative action, equal employment programs, and many of the things that are under attack today were born out of people who supported a more integrative mind-set. We’re in a society where only 9% of the people support that.

The predominant viewpoint among the upper echelons of corporate America is the meritocratic lens (see “No Longer Just Black and White,” powerplay, this issue). That’s the lens that believes that you kill what you eat; you get what you get because of hard work, focus, and making sacrifices. They believe that cream rises to the top and say that if you work hard enough, there are no barriers to success.

So don’t expect diversity programs to specifically focus on African Americans. But African Americans can still benefit

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