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'Watershed moment': Corporate America looks to hire more Black people

by Matthew Lavietes | @mattlavietes | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 19 August 2020 21:38 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Small toy figures are seen in front of Google logo in this illustration picture, April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

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Black professional groups say they've received 'dozens' more calls in recent weeks from companies eager to diversify their staffs

By Matthew Lavietes

NEW YORK, Aug 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - U.S. companies are showing a surge of interest in hiring Black employees, a trend linked to the Black Lives Matter movement that raises questions of whether it marks a lasting change in diversity of the U.S. workforce, experts say.

An influx of inquiries has been coming from companies eager to fill positions with Black employees, according to professional groups, while companies are making promises to build staffs whose demographics reflect the population.

The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) and Blacks In Technology all said calls from companies looking to hire their members have "tripled" in recent weeks.

"This is a watershed moment, a moment that will not be reversed," said Karl Reid, NSBE executive director.

"The kinds of conversations I'm having with white men, I couldn't imagine having even six months ago or even frankly four months ago."

The rising interest in hiring Black talent comes in the wake of protests for racial equity sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

Among the biggest companies, Adidas promised in June that 30% of all new positions would be filled with Black and Latino workers over the next five years.

Alphabet's Google said 30% of leadership positions would be filled with employees from underrepresented groups by 2025.

Last week, a group of executives from 27 banks, tech companies and consulting firms - including Amazon, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase - vowed to hire 100,000 people from low-income Black, Latino and Asian communities by 2030.

But Bruce Thompson, NBMBAA's interim CEO, and other heads of professional groups said they were skeptical that efforts would be enough to achieve racial equity in the U.S. workforce. "Is this a flash in the pan or is it more permanent change?" said Thompson.

"Goodness knows the history of racism in America is a very, very long one - it's had many ups an downs and it remains to be see if this is truly a sign of lasting change."

In July, Black unemployment rose to 14.6%, government data showed, while the joblessness rate for whites was 9.2%, the widest gap between Black and white Americans in five years, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Along with facing racist hiring practices, Black Americans have been historically barred from the highest paying jobs.

Data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that of the roughly 900,000 people holding top-paying jobs across the country, about 3% were Black, while the Black population is about 13%.

"The systems have been in place and folks don't want to challenge them," said Marvin Owens Jr., senior director of the economic department of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil rights group.

He allowed that interest in Black hiring was a "good sign" but little more.

"It's not an indication that things have changed, but I think that it is an indication of a change that's needed," Owens said.

To achieve racial equity, companies need to collect and share data on hiring rates, salaries and advancement of Black employees compared with white employees, advocates said.

"Show us the numbers," said Gregory Greenlee, founder of Blacks In Technology. Companies need to prove that Black hiring is more than an afterthought, he said.

No official figures are available to show how much companies have sought out Black hires recently or how many new Black hires have been made.

Yet interest may be higher than it appears, experts said, with the coronavirus hindering outreach efforts.

"You have that factor overlaying all of this and to some degree dampening what may otherwise be genuine interest in building out a more diverse workforce," said Thompson.

But Thompson said he welcomed attention to Black hiring as the country looks closely at its racist practices.

"Given where we are, one would hope there's something good that can come out of this," he said.

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'Treated like crap' - Black women march for equality in U.S. protests

U.S. progress towards Black equality seen unraveling in pandemic

U.S. firms urged to set targets to get Black women in top jobs

(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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