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Opinion: Detroit businesses must support diversity in hiring practices

Mark S. Lee and Karen Dumas

When it comes to recruiting and hiring diverse teams, businesses still struggle.

The country is experiencing a movement unlike those in the past, and companies and organizations are grappling with next steps. With calls for social justice, fairness and equity, coupled with boycotts or public scrutiny of companies who appear tone deaf, how organizations respond are integral to their brand success.

This movement for change has been driven by a cross-section of people reflecting diverse backgrounds, including age, race, gender, et al. In other words, a microcosm of the society at large.

African Americans account for over 80% of the total population in Detroit and nearly 14% in Michigan.

As a result, many organizations have released commitment statements, videos expressing their desires and have vowed to increase financial commitments supporting causes focused on change. Yet, there’s still a significant and apparent "gap" between intent, words and actions.

African Americans account for over 80% of the total population in this city and nearly 14% in the state.

From corporations located here that continue to ignore their public commitment to diversity to the “new” Detroit residents who now stake claim to a city they once feared, and who are comfortable disrespecting those who’ve always been here, there is something very wrong with our reality.

And this reality is not about another “commitment statement,” video or getting incremental dollars to check another program on the virtual diversity and inclusion training box. It’s more than a campaign or promise at a business luncheon. It’s a matter of serious commitment to change the complexion of business.

The challenge is simple: Recruit and hire those who are a representation of communities served. It broadens the learning experience for all while providing further opportunities for engagement with those from diverse backgrounds. The bottom line is bringing people to the table.

So, what should businesses do now?

► Commit to change: Don't just say you're committed through a statement, video and/or additional training programs, but take it several steps beyond by committing to diversity and inclusion initiatives beyond the corporate campaign.

► Community engagement/build relationships: Engage in the communities where you do business. Build relationships with the community. They must want more from minorities than their dollars as consumers and be willing to invest beyond a tax deductible contribution.

► Focus on community representation: Consumers do business with people who look like them, share similar values and can relate to various situations. They also want reassurance employees understand similar issues and experiences. This leads to empathy and ultimately, consumer commitment.

► Focus on expanded employee recruiting: Hiring diverse teams are essential to success at all levels of the organization. Additionally, it makes good business sense. A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19 percentage points higher revenues due to innovation.

Business should also expand recruiting efforts to include students from historically black colleges and universities. These students deserve the same level of attention as those attending larger and predominantly white institutions. 

Change — like attitudes — starts at the top and then and only then, will there be a real change in landscape and representation. At that point, we’ll get the picture that's a true reflection of a community it serves.

Mark S. Lee is founder, president and CEO of The LEE Group.

Karen Dumas is a communications strategist who served as chief of communications for the city of Detroit under Mayor Dave Bing.