From wealth to diversity, our editors offer an action plan

Black America needs fixing.

advocate for a national policy to encourage the Bush administration to enact new initiatives, but the most productive means of making a difference is on the local level, one school district at a time. — Kenneth Meeks

OUR READERS RESPOND: What needs to be done to fix the public education system?

  • Increase public school budgets:37.8%
  • Offer higher salaries for teachers: 20.8%
  • Provide year-round school education: 17.0%
  • Build more schools to lower class size: 24.4%

Where do African Americans fit into discussions about diversity today? According to a recent survey conducted by blackenterprise.com, 47% of our readers overwhelmingly felt that the biggest benefactors of diversity have been white women. There has been a sense that although diversity has roots in affirmative action, its function has marginalized or displaced African Americans because of a broadened definition that includes a variety of groups.

However, the benefit of diversity for black professionals is really steeped in understanding the numbers — how demographical and population shifts will present new and broader opportunities. It is truly understanding how those numbers are changing and continue to shape the corporate landscape, and then setting an aggressive strategic agenda to become an innovative member of that landscape.

As implicitly altruistic as diversity seems, in the corporate arena, it is used to leverage business opportunities. “We’re in a leverage game,” says Joe Watson, CEO of StrategicHire in Reston, Virginia. “We have to play it. If we completely withdraw from the field of diversity because we don’t like the definition, then we will be 13.8% of the population — and good luck to getting stuff done.”

When you look at 2000 U.S. Census statistics that report that African Americans and Hispanics each represent just over 13% of the population, while Asians represent 4%, it’s clear that there is a competitive advantage in being black, according to Watson. “And smart people will look for ways to leverage that. If you are a senior executive, a person of color with a great education, and can deliver the goods, you will get the job, and beat out the folks who are there,” he says. “There is a certain level of credit, if you will, that is given for being a person of color, whether you need it or not. There are a lot of people, particularly African Americans, who may be upset about that, but capitalism is based on unfair competitive advantage.”

African Americans should not be self-conscious about being the “token” employee, but instead work diligently to secure supportive networks inside and outside of the organization that will ensure growth and success; volunteer for projects that will showcase talents to senior-level executives outside of the department; and assertively seek feedback about work performance and how accomplishments are perceived. This is an opportunity not only for minority employees to stand out, but also to be innovative because different thoughts, ideas, and perspectives drive changes in the industry. Part of being recognized as a leader is being seen as an agent of change.

As Frans Johansson writes in his book The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection

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