By: Mark Cruse
In the professional world today, Black people make up 8% of all white-collar jobs. (NBC News) For those who don’t understand the meaning of this number, allow me to explain. In America, Black buying power is a large factor in our overall GDP as a nation. Cheryl Grace, Nielsen’s Senior Vice President, states: “At 47.8 million strong and a buying power that’s on par with many countries’ gross domestic products, African Americans continue to outpace spending nationally” (Wright, Newsone, 2020) But the question that always arises in my head, is if Black people make up such a large percentage of the purchasing of products and services, why are so little of us involved in its creation?
This is one major issue that I’ve always felt incredibly passionate about. Being a Black man in America, especially in a corporate space, I have found myself in many instances where I am the only person of color in the room. There are countless times in which I have to change and adapt my personality to fit in with the audience that I find myself. Yet, I am not the only person who has ever felt this way. It’s honestly just another piece of life that Black people come to deal with overtime.
During my internship just this past summer, I was in a fairly large cohort. It was interns from all over the United States. When I first jumped on a nationwide zoom call, I was genuinely pleased to see how many people of color were on that call. Once the actual internship began, there were a few times in which my cohort was thrown in with larger cohorts for all the other interns in other programs. The first time in the larger zoom call, it hit me. The room had hundreds of interns, and as I clicked through the faces at the top of the screen to see who all was there, I was amazed to see how little diversity there really was in the scheme of this entire internship program. It got to the point where almost every other click, maybe one or two people of color, were on my screen. I’ll be honest; this hit me like a sack of bricks.
It was in this instance that I realized how big of a problem this is. While I’m happy that the company I interned for had a program specifically designed for students of color, it still hurt just as much to see that this program did not seem to retain or attract more attention to diversity throughout all of the internship programs. It was the first-ever experience I’ve had with a major corporate entity. The internship itself was great, but it was everything around it that threw me off the most.
I spoke with other students who were in the same situation as me. They all gave the same story, even in entirely different industries. We were proud to see the number of diverse faces initially, but that fantasy could only last so long. Situations like these are every day; my father has been in corporate America for 40 years. I wouldn’t even like to imagine what he went through. But I had hoped at some point, this issue would have been addressed, but statistically speaking, we are still a long way off.
Let’s look at the tech industry. According to CNBC, between Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon, there has been a 15.8 percent increase in Black employees. (Including distribution center workers) 9% of Apple employees are Black, and Microsoft is at around 6% currently. At first glance, these numbers seem like a good start, but that changes when we consider that Amazon now has approximately 1.1 million employees alone.
Not to mention that industry-wide, Black leadership is even harder to find. “Less than 2% of top executives at the 50 largest companies are Black.” (USA Today) This number speaks to the issue at hand. Those are the people who make the decisions, the hiring managers, executives, industry leaders. They are the ones with the most impact. They were the ones who made promises for change to happen. Yet we’re still here.
So how do we fix this? I wish the answer were simple. I would love to say that creating a Black task force, a Black internship, or even explicitly roaming the streets of colleges and universities finding Black students to hire; would be our best options. I would love to say that creating all of these different initiatives, all of these extra funds, would be the action that would make all the difference in the world. But that is just not the case.
No amount of money could solve this issue. No amount of time could change it either. But here is something any company can do that won’t cost them a single dime: Change the Culture. All of these companies have such little diverse teams in their workforce because it’s become normalized in their everyday operations. When companies have teams, departments, and leaders whom all look the same, sound the same, think the same, go to the same schools, and grow up in the same neighborhoods, why are we surprised when they hire the same? It should be no surprise that they would like people on their teams who are just like them.
That is where we start. We, as a country, need to create a culture that thrives off of diversity. We need to push ourselves outside of the boundaries that we know and are comfortable with. We have to learn to embrace our differences and see that they are our strengths in many ways. It needs to be embedded in the culture that every company in this country. This goes way beyond the hiring timeline as well. Black retention rates at the largest companies in the world are some of the absolute lowest. Creating a culture that understands and is willing to address these issues no matter how uncomfortable the conversations may be, can allow those Black and Brown professionals to see and feel welcome in that space.
This summer has shown a lot in terms of the truth about race in this country. No matter what side of the aisle you may be on, we can all agree that there are some issues we need to address. But for us to have constructive conversations about these issues, we have to create spaces in which they can safely happen. I hope to one day be able to help in the creation of those spaces. But for now, I’m doing everything I can to make sure we’re putting ourselves on the right track. So, I implore you in your professional pursuit to ask yourself, are you doing the same?