Bankole: Put diversity in the forefront at Mackinac

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

The Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island has become a must-attend ritual for business, political, education and community leaders.

This year’s conference May 31-June 3 should put a stronger emphasis on racial diversity and inclusion as being part of the heralded comeback of Detroit. Chamber officials tell me they have a panel on Thursday, the last day of the conference, to tackle economic opportunity and inclusion.

“While business and economic issues frequently take center stage at the conference, a growing number of our business and civic leaders are concerned about issues such as cultural cohesion and economic inclusion,” said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “The chamber’s leadership is no exception to this and we have worked to incorporate these issues in to conference programming.”

That inclusion forum should underscore the fact that Detroiters are not looking for a handout or for someone to pass the hat around. They want to be part of the city’s comeback by participating in both the contracts that are awarded when public/private partnerships are announced as well as the jobs that accompany such projects.

But doing so would require Detroit’s job providers to not only publicly support diversity initiatives but also to internally nurture and grow cultural inclusiveness in their companies.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, which has roughly 5,684 employees in its downtown Detroit offices, said it is doing just that.

“We’ve put diversity and inclusion practices front and center in running our business. This has led to our company being recognized as the regional leader in diversity practices by Diversity, Inc. magazine. Moreover, it’s led to tangible business results — including five straight years of membership growth,” said Daniel J. Loepp, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Loepp, who will be attending the gathering on the island, added: “Whether we’re talking about running a business, shepherding public policy or mobilizing communities for change, we must recognize that our results are strengthened by including diverse perspectives in fashioning the outcomes.”

Loepp is correct.

A “Diversity Matters” report produced last year by McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm, found that companies with more diverse workforces perform well financially. A key finding in the report: “Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

The findings would suggest that making racial diversity a central focus of Detroit’s resurgence is an economic booster for companies doing business in the city. The region of southeast Michigan, which is home to diverse industries, including technology, should be no exception.

And in the region some colleges that are aware of the crucial need for racial diversity as key in preparing and training a diverse workforce and future entrepreneurs and innovators are not taking a back seat on the issue either. University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, for example, has instituted a mandatory diversity improvement plan.

The challenge now is for other influencers and industry captains attending this year’s policy meeting to adapt a bold vision for improving diversity. And in Detroit, the question of affording more opportunities for blacks in a city bouncing back from the doldrums must not be left to the design of politicians. Rather the city’s business leaders should take the front-row seats.


Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on Super Station 910-AM at noon Wednesdays and Fridays. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.