The Persistent Lack of Diversity in Executive America A recent report from Federal Times, a government-focused human resources magazine, indicates that blacks make up only 8.6 percent of senior executives. John Rice, founder of the non-profit advocacy organization Management Leadership for Tomorrow, talks to Tony Cox about the dismal numbers and what can be done to improve them.
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The Persistent Lack of Diversity in Executive America

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The Persistent Lack of Diversity in Executive America

The Persistent Lack of Diversity in Executive America

The Persistent Lack of Diversity in Executive America

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A recent report from Federal Times, a government-focused human resources magazine, indicates that blacks make up only 8.6 percent of senior executives. John Rice, founder of the non-profit advocacy organization Management Leadership for Tomorrow, talks to Tony Cox about the dismal numbers and what can be done to improve them.

TONY COX, host:

Climbing up the corporate ladders can be tough enough and few blacks have shattered the glass ceiling at the senior executive level. According to Federal Times magazine, only 8.6 percent of senior level executives are African-American. So why such little diversity at the top?

Joining me now is John Rice, founder of Management Leadership for Tomorrow, or MLT. John's organization trains and prepares young minorities for top-notch business schools and companies. John, welcome.

Mr. JOHN RICE (Founder, Management Leadership for Tomorrow): Thank you for having me.

COX: Let's begin with this. Blacks only make up 8.6 percent of senior executive positions, according to the numbers that we are getting. Are you surprised by the low figure or does this come as no surprise to you?

Mr. RICE: Not surprised at all. I think that this is a challenge that we face both in the government sector, the non-profit sector, as well as in the corporate sector. If you are to look at the similar numbers on the corporate side, if you look at African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans at the most senior levels, it's really, you know, three to four percent.

So those numbers that you mentioned are pretty consistent. And I think the bottom line is that minorities, as they are growing in general as percentage of the overall population in this country, continue to be extremely underrepresented in those leadership positions that have, you know, in which you have broad influence to make a positive impact not only within your organization but in the community on a more broad level.

COX: You've said that more minorities tend to look into law and medical schools because they provide better job security, and minorities feel those careers perhaps allow them an opportunity to give back to their communities in a way that the CEO may or may not be able to. Are there so few blacks heading into corporations because there's not a large pool of them going down the business route? Is that why?

Mr. RICE: Well, I think there are a number of issues that you touch on that are driving this. I mean, if you - I think going back, sort of from a socioeconomic factor standpoint, they're just historically in the minority communities, the business is consider - in the corporate world considered to be more ambiguous, tougher to navigate.

Whereas if you come out of a law school, you have a license to practice medicine - excuse me, law and medical school, license to practice medicine, your communities are very more - it's more clear in terms of what the path is to, you know, sustainability and to success.

And on the business side, it's just historically there weren't as many opportunities for minorities. Therefore fewer role models at the senior levels and a lower understanding or exposure of what it takes to prepare, what the opportunities are, what it takes to be good, and I think those factors really drive it.

So it's a - you have - in the corporate world I think they're fighting against a number of issues. But I think the good news is that the corporate world is very focused now and the demand for minority talent is as high as it's ever been. Now, I think our challenge is to match demand now that the doors are open with a supply of talent that's qualified and prepared and ready to rise up to the senior levels.

COX: Well, Fortune magazine certainly says that your organization, MLT, is doing an outstanding job at just that. What do you do with your program that others don't or don't do as successfully as you?

Mr. RICE: Yes, I think one of the things that makes us unique is that we focus - we do not focus on scholarships and fellowships. Our focus is providing minorities who are demonstrating potential, providing minorities with what we call sort of these - the key ingredient for high achievement at those critical or relatively early transition points in their career.

So what am I talking about? Really that early exposure, those hard and soft skills, that coaching and mentoring around critical junctures, that roadmap, how to get from A to B to Z, what's the bar for excellence at each stage, those door opening relationships, that putting him in a high performing peer community. These are things that they don't teach you in the classroom, whether that's high school or college or graduate school, no matter where you go to school. These are things that minorities tend to have more limited access to, and these are things that are really critical to get into senior levels.

So we focus within the context of our curriculum on delivering these key ingredients at those critical transition points, whether that's during college, transitioning from college to the workforce, and at first in early career jobs, where that's transitioning from the early career jobs back to graduate business school or from graduate business school back out to the working world.

So we - our focus is really on taking folks from good to great with a comprehensive approach to preparation, and we're finding that it drives results. But it also complements - it also compliments what some of the historical programs that provide scholarships and fellowships do, and really helps those students be that much more prepared and successful.

And finally, it is exactly what we are finding to be what corporations and hiring organizations in the not-for-profit sector, what they are really looking for in terms of a new approach that allows them to leverage their experience, the knowledge of their intellectual property and help us prepare the folks for opportunities that they have to offer.

COX: Our time is just about out. I've got just about a minute or so for this question for you, John. It's - corporate America is not for everybody. Those who succeed, what do they have in common?

Mr. RICE: Well, I think that they have - folks that succeed come in and quickly develop and enhance an understanding of what it takes to be good. They come in with a good - I think they demonstrate a command of the core hard skills, whether that's, you know, problem-solving, analytical skills, oral and written communication. They master those core of hard skills and then they develop a fine understanding of how to navigate, how to develop relationships, how to avoid certain pitfalls.

So I think it's really that unique combination of hard skills, soft skills and ability to navigate with some savvy that only comes with experience and with mentorship. That - I think those are the keys in these days. And the good news is that there are opportunities in organizations like ours and others who have the ability to prepare young people more effectively, so that their true talent can manifest itself. And those folks and young people have a better chance to realize their potential in these great organizations and really have impact in their communities on a more broad level.

COX: John Rice is the founder of Management Leadership for Tomorrow. He joined us from our New York studios of NPR.

John, thank you very much.

Mr. RICE: Thanks for having me.

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