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Faced with a nationwide racial reckoning, corporations are showing a heightened interest in diversifying their workforce. While data from McKinsey supports the value of diversity with growth in sales and earnings in diverse firms outperforming less diverse firms, strong commitments to seek out, hire and retain Black talent have become a moral imperative. Much of the chatter in the business world focuses on the lack of Black CEOs, and rightfully so. Since the Fortune 500 list was first published in 1955, there have been only 19 Black CEOs out of 1,800 chiefs. But there is not a quick fix to these discrepancies. It takes years to groom someone for a position in the C-Suite. Let’s go back to square one.
One solution to diversity woes lies at the genesis of the supply chain: Corporations need to diversify their hiring pools.
Companies can find the best and the brightest from diverse communities by taking the following three actions.
1. Expose young Black people to your industry early
Undergraduates make their choice of major based on their career aspirations, and career paths are selected as a result of exposure to an industry. A high school student who’s particularly strong in science, technology, engineering and math skills will gravitate toward an industry they know about, like medicine. Every high school student knows about the medical field because of their own personal exposure to it. They don’t immediately consider an industry like investment banking or fintech merely because they may not know what the industry encompasses, that such occupations within that industry even exist, or that a career within that sector is attainable.
This lack of exposure is one of the reasons I created First Workings, a NYC-based nonprofit that trains and places diverse high school students from underrepresented communities in paid internships at dominant companies in their respective industries. Our interns gain exposure through an internship or mentorship at companies in sectors ranging from finance to medicine at companies such as Morgan Stanley, PJT Partners, Mount Sinai Health System and TradeWeb Markets. Exceptionally bright, diverse teenagers learn the ins and outs of what an industry is and gain an understanding of the variety of careers possible for them to pursue.
Once a rising high school senior is exposed to worlds they did not know very much about, whether that is advertising, private equity or technology, they are far more likely to choose fields of study that are more appropriate to their career goals and will be knocking on your door for a position upon college graduation.
2. Start the talent pipeline in high school
Countless corporations begin the talent pipeline far too late if they want to have a more diverse workforce. Start earlier. Provide an internship program for high schoolers or connect with a third-party provider to do the leg work for you. Internships and mentorships at an early age play a pivotal role in attracting diverse talent and providing youth from underrepresented communities with social capital. My own career in finance began with a high school internship as a runner at the Chicago Board of Trade. The connections I made there were consequential in my decades-long run on Wall Street.
Beginning the talent pipeline in high school benefits both the corporation and the teen. The organization is able to build relationships with diverse talent before other companies. The diversity of thought that a young, diverse intern brings is invaluable. The company can maintain a relationship, offer college internships and be top of mind when it comes to making a career decision. Plus, it is becoming increasingly popular for corporations to seek talent early and not even require a college degree. Apple, Google, Netflix and Tesla all consider candidates who don’t have a four-year degree. For the diverse teens in an internship program, they have the chance to develop social capital, build strong connections and network where they otherwise may not have had the opportunity. Start earlier and find diverse talent before other companies have the chance to.
3. Seek talent broadly
There is no doubt that heralded, elite universities produce talent that easily assimilates into your company and do well. But don’t dismiss recruiting from other universities or programs. If you do, your selective hiring process leads you to miss out on high-quality, underutilized talent pools. Besides, just 8 percent of students at Ivy League and other highly selective colleges and universities are Black. By prioritizing this narrow selection of graduates as your hiring pool, you are already limiting the number of Black candidates you will see.
Of all Black students who earn bachelor’s degrees, 22 percent of them come from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Prioritize recruiting from HBCUs, and (again) please resist the temptation to limit yourself to the most well-known. Widen the net. There are more than 100 HBCUs in the United States producing graduates in all industries lacking diversity.
Expand your pools even further. Look for graduates from technical programs and community colleges and people with certificates in skills specific to your industry. Incredible, diverse talent may be a good fit for your company even if they do not have a college degree.
To truly make progress in diversity aspirations, corporations need to rethink where they look for talent. Seek out opportunities to expose young Black talent to your industry early on so they know it is a viable path for them. Start the pipeline to diverse talent in high school (far earlier than the status quo), and resist hiring from the typical narrow pool.
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