Higher Education and Real World

Experience: NACME, INROADS and the PhD Project (see 'ABOUT OUR SPONSORS') are organizations working closely with corporations, colleges and universities, and communities to develop minority talent. In fact, in some cases they create interventions--as we've seen with NACME--and provide opportunities that might not occur without their assistance and resources. There is a common theme among participants in these programs: college attendance, or at least completion of college, might not have been possible without these programs and interventions. Moreover, the education and experience provided with supplemental workshops and personal development, networks and mentors give graduates the ability to "hit the ground running" when they enter the world of full-time work.

Among the most valuable aspect of these initiatives, beyond providing access and development, is the pipeline being created for companies. Fred Cummings, Managing Director, McDonald Investments and former INROADS intern, explains, "The biggest advantage for organizations is that they have access to talent, and that talent in turn establishes a greater network over time." Demetrice Abrams, Senior, Lamar University, NACME Scholar concurs, "Corporations are competing for top minority talent--when they work with organizations like NACME, they know what kind of talent they have, they watch them grow and develop, and they often establish a loyal employee with a network that they can further tap into."

IBM's Vice President of Global Diversity Ted Childs also agrees from the corporate perspective: "We have been the second largest supporter of INROADS, and the first in the industry. This gives us access to a growing talent pool. Our strategy is to identify this talent as early as possible in their college career and develop a relationship with them through meaningful internships and work experiences." Don Gamble, Director of University Relations and College Recruiting at Lucent Technologies, also recognizes the value of these initiatives: "One of the ways we work to build our pipeline is through the early identification program with our summer interns. Lucent provides meaningful assignments and then we ask them through a feedback survey what they liked or didn't like. The most important feedback we get is that they worked on something important. When it comes to hiring them, the question they will ask themselves is: 'Will this company provide me with the challenging work I want to do?'" Margie Dekin, Recruiting Manager at Lucent adds: "This is a highly competitive industry--we have a war for talent. We have decided quite positively to institute programs to get the best and brightest among all diversity groups."

Childs notes, with regard to investment in education, internships and relationship building: "If you are doing this astutely, you are minimizing your competitors access to them." Adolphe adds: "If you can reach people at an early age, show them you have a vested interest in their success, their growth, you can get 'brand-loyalty.' You can't compete when your competitors are willing to outbid you for the talent at 10 to 40 percent more. But, you can compete when you invest in people, they buy into the company mission, and you help provide a career--not just a job."

The Inclusive Organization
Investing in education, building relationships with students, schools, communities and other organizations can give corporations a competitive advantage in recruiting, and even retaining, talent. Developing that talent into tomorrow's business leaders is contingent, in part, on how well companies utilize that talent once it enters their doors. But, there is evidence that America's corporations have not yet learned to fully tap into the talent. Lawrence Beshear, Design Engineer and business owner of FORTE Designs, comments on experience and observation: "There is a lot of labor and talent not being well-utilized in companies." His observation is supported by a survey of minority MBA's by the PhD Project that found, "African, Hispanic and Native American MBA's in Corporate America say they still lag far behind non-minorities in getting hired, promoted, and reaching their companies' upper levels." Bernard J. Milano of KPMG, who heads the PhD Project, cautions, "Minority MBAs plainly believe [they] have not yet earned their fair place in the business world. This is a message that corporations must hear and respond to if they want to hire and keep minority executive talent."

National data also indicate we still have work to do within corporations:

  • Women and minorities continue to earn less than their white male counterparts.
  • African American and Hispanic women earn on 65 and 55 percent, respectively, of white men's average earnings.
  • White women earn about 75 cents for every dollar earned by white men--40% of that gap can't be explained by differences in experience, skills or jobs held.
  • Three out of four working-age people with disabilities who want to work are not working.
  • Nearly half of the total Native American workforce is unemployed.9

Corporations must ensure that the efforts, the energy, and the purpose of their education and development initiatives are not lost when these talented young people enter their organizations.Too often, corporations find diverse talent, only to lose it to competitors or to entrepreneurial spirit. Fact is, the greatest number of new business start-ups comprises women and people of color. This can be attributed first to motivation and leadership drive, and also to the fact that corporations are not providing the opportunities these people deserve and need. Dr. Phyllis Scott Buford, CEO of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management reminds us: Companies have to "stand out from the pack and offer minorities clear opportunities to grow and advance. There are business benefits of achieving diversity in the executive ranks."

"The biggest challenge, particularly for business leaders, is to make sure that there are role models within the organization so he/she continues to move up," says Cummings. "In order for initiatives to be seen as successful, we need to see people in high-ranking, leadership positions. Give people the chance to lead!" Robert L. Greene, Business Consultant, Andersen Consulting and INROADS alum, reinforces the value of these motivated, hard-working, eager new employees: "When you bring in someone who has interned with your company or another, you are getting a high potential, someone who has been groomed to move into a leadership position. These people need to be recognized as top-notch professionals."

Companies that are truly committed to develop tomorrow's leadership today are providing a wide range of internal corporate initiatives--in fact, they have diversity strategies in place that start with top leadership commitment and support, and initiatives that are tied to business strategy:

  • Mentoring
  • Identification process for high potentials
  • Succession planning
  • Career pathing
  • Developmental assignments
  • Networking/affinity groups
  • Accountability for managers to ensure the development of all segments of the workforce

Childs notes, "You need to give people reason to work for you and give them the mindset that they have choices--because their choices are not limited to you." He adds: "Mentoring is particularly important--you want to maximize success in the first four to five years. If we lose talent we have invested in, we have to reinvest--what we have to do is proactively protect that talent." Silicon Graphics has established an affinity group for new employees called "HORIZONS." Deborah Dagit, Director of Diversity and Organization Development at Silicon Graphics explains, "This is probably our biggest retention and development tool in our very dynamic environment."

Bill Jensen, author of Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster, challenges us to work more efficiently by creating a corporate infrastructure to help us work smarter. He explains, "A diverse population can work a lot smarter than we are allowing. There's a model for making things simpler (and more efficient): it means putting yourself in someone else's shoes. In life this is called common sense. In selling it is called customer focus. When designing information-based work--it's called being user centered." Jensen says we have "limitless capacity to work smarter as long as we are user centered. Start with the assumption that everyone can and will work smarter, that most want to."

The United States is making some progress in closing the gaps around education and representation in business. African Americans are now on par with whites in high school graduation rates. Women are exceeding men as entrants into college and making progress in leadership positions in corporations. Some of the MBAs from the PhD Project survey are "hopeful" for the workplace of the future. Jennifer Bonnie, Director of Corporate Affairs at We Media Inc., says positively: "Seventy-six percent of the companies polled by our jobboard partner HotJobs, are interested in hiring persons with disabilities, they just don't know where to find them. We are helping them solve their problem by bringing them together at WeJobs." We are constantly reminded--and need to be reminded--that we are not there yet. We have people who want to work and get educated--they just need an opportunity. Linda A. Hill, a professor at Harvard Business School reminds us: "Many people assume leaders are born, not made. But, research suggests people learn to lead by doing, observing others, and through mentor-like relationships that help them capitalize on their on-the-job learning experiences."

Perhaps what we need to know can be best articulated by some of the bright young leaders of tomorrow.... "Corporate America is very competitive. In a place, an environment where intelligence, ingenuity, and efficiency are its main assets, there is a need to target, recruit and maintain young and diverse talent. The investment in a young bright college student will develop the corporate savvy worker of tomorrow," says Kevin Stroman, an INROADS Intern with Andersen Consulting and senior at Bates College.

Robert L. Greene, concludes: "CEOs want to surround themselves with a strong cadre of people--that cadre is colorless."

  1. U.S. Department of Labor, "Futurework: Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century." 
  2. U.S. Department of Labor, "Futurework: Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century." 
  3. DOL
  4. DOL
  5. Bloomberg, L.P., November 5, 1999.
  6. The College Board, "Task Force Urges 'Affirmative Development' Strategies to Promote Minority High Achievement", October 17, 1999.
  7. The Conference Board, "Best in Class"
  8. The Conference Board
  9. DOL