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The Race for Diverse Talent: A Shared Interest

The Race for Diverse Talent: A Shared Interest
By Edie Fraser

Corporate America and higher education are approaching the diversity intersection from separate directions. The business community needs to identify and develop the human capital that will keep American industries profitable in the global marketplace. Meanwhile, the thrust of most U.S. colleges and universities is to produce well-rounded graduates who are prepared to make meaningful contributions in their various workplaces.

There is not much new about those two principles. Corporate America has always sought to find talented people to fill challenging roles. Higher education institutions have been equally vigilant in securing top jobs for their graduating students. The talent pool is as deep as ever, but what has changed is the demographics. Some experts say 70 percent of all professional jobs in 2008 will be filled by minorities and women, a factor that is changing the way America’s human resource departments do business.

Today’s minorities will be tomorrow’s majorities. This reality clearly indicates that a diverse talent pool needs to come from our colleges and universities. For companies to have the competitive edge, recruiting and retaining the brightest minority talent is the clearest path to business success.

The companies that repeatedly grace the annual lists of “best companies for women and minorities to work for,” clearly embrace diversity as more than a public relations tool. When Miles D. White, CEO of Abbott Laboratories, raised the diversity bar for that company, he also raised a few eyebrows both inside and outside the corporation. White demanded that 75 percent of Abbot’s new hires be women or minorities. It seemed an impossible goal, but they achieved it. In fact, Abbot tied a bonus system to that initiative, ensuring the recruitment and retention of its diverse workforce.

John W. Rowe, chairman and CEO of Exelon, has set a goal to increase minority talent 100 percent in the next five years. Abbott and Exelon are just the tip of the iceberg as more organizations are setting diversity recruiting goals. Higher education will have a greater role to play in providing the diverse talent necessary for tomorrow’s corporate success.

Many companies are finding out the hard way that diversity is a business imperative. A recent study conducted by the Diversity Best Practices Council and PriceWaterhouseCoopers revealed that a company loses approximately $180,000 in revenue with the loss of every manager. The study also says that individuals are more likely to leave companies that are not diverse. The bottom line is clear. It is in the best financial interest of a corporation to cultivate and support a diverse workforce.

Along the way, competition for the best and the brightest has altered recruitment strategies and orientation programs, as well as employee development, compensation and other human resources practices.

What worked in the 1980s and 1990s is not bringing the results required to meet the demographic adjustments that the new millennium has dictated.

Traditionally, historically Black colleges and universities have been a great source of talent for American businesses. Engineering schools, in particular, have supplied a steady stream of professionals to the defense and technology industries. Many Fortune 500 companies understand the need to partner with higher education institutions in general, and HBCUs in particular, to both recruit and retain talent.

Diversity has become an economic imperative in corporate America. The movement to become more inclusive means higher education institutions must be ready to produce the talented minorities corporations are clamoring for. Higher education should look to corporate America as the incubator for the practice of knowledge and application in the real world. Many institutions of higher learning have developed cooperative education programs, internships and fieldwork experiences as extensions of the classroom. Students can apply what they’ve learned in a real-world environment. Have we exhausted the potential for this type of collaboration? Hopefully not, because given the limited opportunities minorities and women have had in some career fields, historically, a “try work on and see how it fits” approach will open doors that had previously been closed.

What does all this mean for business and higher education? Both should consider it a win-win situation. Corporate America reaches out and brings talented minorities and women to positions of responsibility and opportunity. The academic world cultivates career learning and placement opportunities for its increasingly diverse student populations.

And most importantly, minorities and women achieve in a work environment previously off limits to them. It is indeed the perfect scenario.

— Edie Fraser is the president of Diversity Best Practices, an organization which assists companies looking to improve their diversity strategies.

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