You would be hard-pressed to find a Fortune 500 company whose website and philosophy didn’t reflect a bended-knee commitment to a statement of cultural maturity regarding race, sexual orientation and physical ability. If you’re on the career page of these corporations, you’ll see that these statements focused on diversity have been elevated to a place under their own tabs, utilizing buzz words that indicate sincerity.
Walmart: “… understanding, respecting and valuing diversity—unique styles, experiences, identities, ideas and opinions—while being inclusive of all people.
Apple: “Explore a collaborative culture of inclusion, growth, and originality, supported by resources that make a difference in your life.”
And CVS Health could win the prize for the best use of SEO language: “We believe that for our business to thrive, our workforce must reflect the diversity of the communities we serve. And all of our colleagues must feel empowered to succeed. We work hard to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace, accepting of all employees who bring unique perspectives.”
But the words shroud a problem rather than outline a program — that something important may be lacking in an organization’s makeup. And whether it is called “diversity training” or “cultural awareness,” for the last 25 years, at least, someone has had a job specifically to address the topic with incoming (or troubled) employees.
Corporations continue to wobble around a specific formula for the two words — a la “a jury of your peers.” But the conversations continue with gusto.
In terms of race, according to a U.S. Census Bureau August 2019 report, a demographic snapshot of the American population looks like this: White or Caucasian, 60.1 percent; Hispanic or Latinx, 18.5 percent; Black or African American, 12.2 percent; Asian, 5.1 percent; and American Indian, Alaska Native or Indigenous, 0.7 percent.
If we use race and ethnicity as the yardstick by which we measure how diverse we are in the workplace — which is not the only barometer — we aren’t doing very well in creating a space that looks like our nation, especially at certain levels of the corporate ladder.
A special feature written by Richie Zweigenhaft in the October 2020 issue of The Society Pages reveals that whites actually make up an overwhelming 92.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs; 3.4 percent are Latinx, 2.4 are East Asians or South Asians, and only 1 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are African Americans. Women, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community also factor into the diversity equation, and their executive representation isn't much better.
But before we pass unfavorable judgment on the efforts of corporations to achieve what they so passionately espouse, it behooves us to ask whether or not corporate America is even the place to “catch up” for disadvantages that likely started in elementary school.
The unique circumstances of the pandemic aside, and the overall negative effect distance learning has had on our students in the past two years, the same racial groups that lag behind in occupying positions of power in the corner office are also the ones historically falling behind academically at an early age.
And a plethora of studies tells us that the combination of poverty and minority status contributes greatly to disparity in education. Students in high-poverty areas have less access to college-prep courses and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes, for example.
A graphic comparison of the inequity would be the amount the Hampton City Schools, near Norfolk in southeastern Virginia, a mostly minority populated school, spends per student versus Arlington, a well-heeled suburb of professionals: $10,500 versus $22,000, respectively.
Can a corporate diversity and inclusion program be effective — and genuine — without addressing the issue of education disparity at an early age? The power and might of a billion-dollar earning corporation partnering with underserved schools might produce an equal impact later in life for those students when it comes to employment and better outcomes in general.
Without recognizing that diversity and inclusion means youth and education, the words take on the same well-meaning but vacant hyperbole as “thoughts and prayers.” The American corporation can do better than that.
Image credit: Yan Krukov via Unsplash
Gloria Johns' career has included her work as a columnist for Scripps-Howard, Gannett and Tribune News Service. She writes for the San Angelo Standard Times and the West Texas Angelus. Previously she was a special features reporter for San Angelo LIVE! Gloria also has nearly thirty years of award-winning grant writing experience for federal, state and county funds to support social, medical, educational and arts projects. She has enjoyed a successful career in telecommunications and nonprofit management. "Gloria is a Purdue University graduate. She has also attended Angelo State University for graduate courses and studied Texas Family Law at Sam Houston State University. She lives just on the edge of the Chihuahua desert in west Texas.