For a modern-day society, race in America is startlingly complicated. But one thing is clear:
For more than 100 years, blacks have been systematically deprived of basic equality by the laws we have passed. Racism in America is both deadly and pervasive, and even as we battle it, we have made progress.
In 2018, I was honored to receive the NAACP’s 48th Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award for his legacy of helping dismantle racism. And one of the most important steps we can take to combating racism is to ensure opportunities to people who can never achieve the goal of racial equality in themselves.
As the founder of diversity and inclusion company Black Enterprise, I’ve known about the opportunities that minorities haven’t had for a long time. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to help those in disadvantaged communities gain the same access to opportunity as white people. But I understand that our collective progress depends on much more than equality of opportunity. The success of minority entrepreneurs requires investment and support from our nation’s largest companies. In fact, our racial wealth gap is 40 times what it was in 1970.
The lack of diversity in Silicon Valley is bad for business. The bottom line: When companies start to view people differently because of their race, that harm is going to hit companies everywhere. We will have fewer employees with the right qualities to rise in leadership positions. We will lose valuable intellectual property. We will lose the ability to recruit the best from underrepresented communities. And more broadly, we will lose the ability to succeed and diversify our workforce.
But this isn’t the first time diversity hasn’t worked. Black Americans still face almost 20 percent unemployment. The fact is that people of color haven’t been included in America’s success. And if we want this country to succeed and thrive, we’ve got to make sure people are included in our economic and political power.
To ensure that diversity creates leaders who understand society, the future doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. It’s possible for companies to benefit by investing in communities that often have fewer opportunities. Companies should make Black Enterprise’s Diverse Explorer program a priority.
It’s one of the best business opportunities we have, helping to fight unemployment and pry open opportunities through leadership development opportunities. As a key member of America’s largest conglomerate, Coca-Cola, I’ve seen what diversity-led leadership can do in our community. I learned that great leaders transcend race and create a lasting economic boon for my home community of Oakland.
You’ve got to create opportunity in order to get great talent. But investors are also critical in creating opportunities by leveraging their resources to empower our communities.
The average U.S. CEO earned $17.4 million in 2017, but here’s the real problem: Business is really, really poor in urban America. The fact is that diversity and inclusion is an incredibly good business strategy. How? A diverse work force benefits business through educated employees with superior capabilities. Businesses can learn more by launching diverse Explorer programs in communities with few opportunities for people of color.
But the race to a diversity-driven future starts with action. Whether businesses provide grants to programs like Diverse Explorer or accelerate innovation through peer incubation, we have a lot of work to do to close the racial wealth gap and end the discrimination against people of color that often results in low business acumen.
But it’s time to stop bickering over non-issues and elect an administration and a Congress that finally gets the job done. We must have the courage to drive meaningful change in society. And I believe that is something we can all come together to do.