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Gaps in Moving the Needle on Diversity

By Joe M. Ricks, Jr, PhD. 
Chair, Division of Business 
Xavier University of Louisiana 
New Orleans, LA 70125

Over the past few years in my role as Chair of the Division of Business at Xavier University of Louisiana and serving on the executive committee of the National HBCU Business Deans Roundtable I’ve been highly engaged in the conversation regarding Diversity and Inclusion.  During this time I have observed two significant gaps that need to be addressed if we are going to move the needle.  While I’m bringing awareness to these gaps from a diversity perspective these gaps are also relevant to the overall talent issues in Corporate America. The first issue is the need for meaningful dialog between business leaders and suppliers of talent, and the second is the focus on the best and the brightest.

During my career, with a few exceptions, the meetings I attend are with business leaders with few, if any academic faculty or frontline student touching administrators or academic meetings with no business leaders in attendance.  This gap leads to two of the major influencers of the diversity talent pipeline talking at each other through articles and other media rather than to each other in engaging two way conversations where we can get on the same page regarding the terms and metrics that are important to developing and onboarding talent from diverse populations.  There is a clear consensus that moving the needle in diversity and inclusion requires uncomfortable conversations; communications though media provides a lot of comfort.  These uncomfortable conversations need to be face to face, where business leaders and the academics that are directly involved in developing a diverse talent pipeline are able to have in depth discussions were each can understand the needs, possibilities, and limitations of each other to identify solutions to pipeline issues.

This gap is not difficult to close; it only requires the will to do so.  Academic and industry associations need to simply add these meeting to the agendas at their national and regional meetings. At the 2018 summit, the National HBCU Business Deans Roundtable partnered with the CEO Action Network and corporate sponsors to engage in panel discussions and breakout sessions with CEOs and diversity and inclusion leaders. Academic and industry associations, accreditation bodies, and corporate leadership groups could and should replicate this initiative.  Where I think the low hanging fruit for effective conversations is between academic leaders (deans, chairs, and faculty) and business leaders (diversity leaders and hiring managers) at national and regional meetings. 

The second gap is much more complex and will need some of the nation’s most talent minds to address. During my career I have had the privilege of being one of the few academics at meetings with business leaders and during these conversations it will inevitably lead to ways to bring the best and brightest students to their organizations.  The complete focus on the best and the brightest (usually determined by GPA) in itself will not have much of an effect on the need for talent in general or the need for diverse talent specifically; by definition the best and the brightest is a small number.  

Even in today’s “everyone gets a trophy” environment not everyone can be a top performer.  If we really want to make a significant effect on increasing the talent pool some of the great minds in Corporate America and the academy must give some thought leadership on how to develop the middle where the greater numbers are.  We in the academy need to identify ways to demonstrate our less than 3.0 students have the competencies necessary to be productive, and our corporate partners need to identify roles where students with potential that fall under the 3.0 threshold can have the opportunity to develop.  Grades measure a lot more than a student’s competency to perform in the work place, and by not providing more opportunities to the majority of students (unless there is significant grade inflation) we are leaving a lot of talent on the table.  I know there are a lot of factors in addressing the second gap that will require a lot of hard work, however if we pick the low hanging fruit in the first gap we will have a framework to address the second.


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