Diversity is more than a Mosaic

John E. Harmon, Sr., IOM | 5/22/2017, 6:44 p.m.
There is a lot of conversation today about diversity and inclusion, and for some it’s more about checking the box ...
John E. Harmon, Sr

There is a lot of conversation today about diversity and inclusion, and for some it’s more about checking the box when it comes to hiring and extending contract opportunities to African Americans. Checking the box to me means having representation from a number of groups; i.e. Caucasians, Asians, Native Americans, Latinos, LBGT, and maybe, African Americans.

You may recall in the 1960’s the approach to ensuring that African Americans had access to jobs and contracts was through Affirmative Action and procurement goals for minorities and women. (March 6, 1961).

These were mandates by government to ensure as best as possible that there was equal access and a level playing field not withstanding race, color, creed or national origin. Unfortunately over the years, many of the laws which supported these practices have been challenged in the courts and have reduced the adherence by many employers and corporations today. A current example is that New Jersey no longer recognizes procurement goals for minority and women business owners, something dating back to when Jim McGreevey and Jon Corzine served as governors of the state. By not having a legal remedy in place for smaller firms that have the ability to perform, but might lack capital or size that a potential corporation may deem a disqualifier is an unfortunate circumstance in today’s society.

This same example could be played out for a qualified African American who is overlooked for a job because of some non- objective process or a bias by the individual making the hiring decision. The fact that African Americans have the highest level of poverty, persons below poverty: NJ – 18%, and unemployment in New Jersey – 20%, confirms that something needs to be done to reduce these numbers.

Moreover, according to the US Economic Census there are over 200,000 African American businesses in New York State, 66,000 in New Jersey and approximately 2 million in the United States, yet the number of businesses which have employees are 5%, 7% and 9% respectively. We have not invented these numbers, there are clear disparities here, and a lot of work will be required to close these gaps.

I implore and challenge all with the wherewithal, to get involved in the mission of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. We are committed in our advocacy to see better workforce development; and educational outcomes coordinated with defined career pathways and increased opportunities for African American residents and businesses of New Jersey.

My perspective on the aforementioned is that “the law” is one thing; however, “the will” of those who have the power and authority to drive the process to favor the individual or business owner who is the most qualified for the job or contract should be the determinate when awarding that job or contract. I am a firm believer that the enforcement of a clearly defined policy based on a value proposition brings a level of objectivity to the process which can minimize bias.

For example, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and league lawyers recognized the need for a hiring policy that was fair and transparent; the NFL faced much criticism over the lack of minorities in high-profile jobs, particularly as head coaches. Fortunately, the late Dan Rooney, Chairman of the six time Super Bowl Champions, Pittsburgh Steelers, who died recently established the Rooney Rule; under which NFL teams are required to interview minority candidates for coaching and front-office positions. Rooney brought new employment requirements to his fellow owners and was able to get the measure passed. (The Rule was enacted in 2003, and since then, 17 teams have had either an African-American or Latino head coach or general manager. Three teams—the Chiefs, Colts and Raiders—have had more than one head coach of color.)