By Christian Morrow
Asked what the over/under was on how many times his name would be glowingly referenced at the Black Political Empowerment Project’s annual Corporate Equity and Inclusion Roundtable forum at Duquesne University, Evan Frazier, whose Advanced Leadership Initiative program has made remarkable progress in highlighting, training and advancing African Americans in Pittsburgh’s corporate sector, couldn’t help but grin.
“It’s almost embarrassing, but of course we’re very pleased,” he said. “But hats off to Tim Stevens for doing this. This is a great conference. It’s really important for the community.”
The conference, now in its eighth year, featured numerous panelists and speakers making presentations on increasing racial diversity, inclusion and equity in the upper echelons on the region’s corporate and nonprofit space.
When it first began, Stevens, the B-PEP chairman, said the idea was to publicly promote the work of corporate entities and leaders who had made a commitment to diversity and were working to increase the presence of African Americans. Conversely, it would also publicly note those that had not. But that, Stevens said, was counterproductive.
“People get defensive,” he said. “Plus, there were, and still are, people who want to do the right thing in terms of diversity and inclusion but who don’t have the systems and practices in place to do it effectively. So it has become more of a cooperative effort. How can we help put those practices in place and move everyone forward?”
Several of the presentations made during this year’s June 17 conference looked at that. Marsha Jones, executive VP at PNC Bank, talked specifically about a “Best Practice” for ensuring diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Katherine Kelleman, CEO of the Port Authority of Allegheny County, noted that when the Port Authority began doing business with small, minority-owned businesses, they were all-Black. But now there are women-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, Hispanic- and Asian-owned businesses—but the size of the authority’s “pie” hasn’t changed. So Black firms are competing for a smaller piece of it.
Internally, she has put many more people of color in top positions—her chief of staff is second-generation Puerto Rican, the chief of operations, Maurice Bell, is African American. She has also “banned the box” and eliminated questions about previous salary history and tied salaries and raises to national industry standards for a given position.
One of the more interesting presentations came from Vibrant Pittsburgh President and CEO Melanie Harrington on the new Vibrant Index. It harkens back to what Stevens said about cooperation. The initiative is a way for companies to get a picture of how they compare with other companies in the region in terms of diversity and inclusion best practices. Eligible companies use the Vibrant Diversity and Inclusion diagnostic tool to indicate which best practices they follow. They then receive a feedback report with scores and recommendations and can follow up with a Vibrant Talent Consultant for bespoke advice for their organizations.
“It’s not about calling people out, it’s about calling them in,” Harrington told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “If we don’t address the capabilities of our companies, we can’t move the needle.”
Harrington said Vibrant Pittsburgh is recruiting companies now, and thanks to its affiliation with the Allegheny Conference on Economic Development, it has access to hundreds “of all sizes and across all sectors.” Progress reports will be confidential and shared with the companies only, but Vibrant Pittsburgh will put out an aggregate report card on the initiative.
“We’ve only just started, but I hope that by August or September, we can report out some of our findings,” she said. “We already report out scores and year-over-year, we haven’t seen much change. So we’re focusing on practices we know work and on getting them implemented to favorable change.”
Stevens said he was pleased and thought it was one of the most powerful conferences because he was able to report gains that have come about through CEIR’s work. He applauded UPMC for being front-and-center at the conference, as the hospital giant “was willing to connect their diversity suppliers with any interested company or corporation, thus building the economic opportunities for their existing minority suppliers.”
Stevens added: “They transformed that into the free-standing event now called SHARE, which now has several corporate partners who are also willing to ‘share’ their diversity suppliers with others. This has produced millions of dollars in contracts for African Americans and other minorities.”
Stevens also noted the success of TALI, or The Advanced Leadership Initiative, founded by Frazier, which advocates for African Americans acquiring C-Level Suite positions; the adoption of “ban the box” by multiple corporate entities; and the adoption of a modified “Rooney Rule” to make sure African Americans are in the mix when executive level hiring is underway.
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This article originally appeared in the New Pittsburgh Courier.