Thanks to the 400-plus who attended our annual breakfast. We are grateful for your participation – and we enjoyed your company.
One of many highlights was the panel moderated by Paul Watanabe, chair of the Political Science Department and director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass Boston.
The panel took some questions from the audience, but ran out of time with several still unanswered. Because we want to honor the questioners, and because the questions were excellent, we would like to share them, with our responses:
Procurement – what are the challenges regarding diverse vendor contracts. How can boards influence these contracts?
In general, two steps are required. The first is to recognize the problem; the second is to be “intentional,” to borrow Governor Patrick’s word, in doing something about it.
One of the first responses to our initial Benchmarks survey, “Stepping Up,” came from an organization that said completing the survey confirmed that it was performing well in most areas, but also revealed that it had no effective policy in hiring diverse suppliers and vendors. The organization promptly moved to create such policies.
Often, longstanding relationships with large firms that can outbid small shops mean it is hard for diverse suppliers and vendors to break in. But the value of diverse companies may be considerable – a more responsive relationship, exposure to new markets, etc. It just takes extra effort to find the right fit.
What about geographical diversity? The board and committees of Commonwealth Compact are very Boston-based. Large employers such as Mass Mutual, Baystate Hospital and Smith & Wesson to name a few are not community partners. What is the plan to reach out to other parts of the state?
A very good question. In addition to many members in Greater Boston, Commonwealth Compact has good participation in the Merrimack Valley, and some in other parts of the state, but not nearly enough. The Compact is definitely a statewide initiative and we plan to redouble our efforts to recruit members from all parts of the state. One element of our strategy is to use each of the various UMass campuses as a base of operations. Any help in this effort from existing supporters would be greatly appreciated. We have recently made a couple of trips out to western Massachusetts to be intentional in our recruitment.
Can the audience share with us the statistical number of minorities in their respective organizations?
Too late for the audience, but we agree that measurement is important and that numbers drive action. That is why we have put considerable effort into the Compact’s three Benchmarks reports. Let us relate one specific experience: the top management of a local firm, about 18 strong, gathered one day in the corporate dining room. All were white. The CEO said: now I want each of you to think of your top deputy – not someone you might be grooming to succeed you some day, but the person who would step in tomorrow if you were hit by a bus. OK, how many of those people are of color? Not a single hand was raised. The point was made.
How diverse and open are your companies when considering minority college graduates?
It would have been good to hear the panel on this. Our experience suggests that attitudes vary enormously. Unfortunately, some companies, and their h.r. departments, still operate under the assumption that applicants of color need to go the extra mile to prove their competence – an essentially racist approach, which Governor Patrick was very honest about at the breakfast. Other employers, though – including many members of the Compact – recognize the true value of diversity, not just that it is the right thing to do morally and culturally, but also that it adds fresh perspective, a range of experience, knowledge of market opportunities, enhanced collegiality and numerous other benefits to any enterprise.
Paul [Watanabe] has asked about a “standard.” How can we become more cognizant that white privilege is that standard, and discuss how many whites fear losing it? But sharing power can be transformative for whites, in a good way.
The question supplies its own answer, very articulately. We would only add our firm conviction that sharing power is not only good for individuals, but for society as a whole, and specifically for the economy.
When a white male says that it’s time we move beyond color (with the assumption that he really “gets it”), do you agree?
No. It is true, and a source of joy in this context, that our president and governor are both African American. And without a doubt the tone of race relations in Massachusetts is far better than it was 40 years ago. But too many sectors are still lily-white, or nearly so, unemployment among persons of color is unacceptably high, and not only do racial gaps persist in education, health outcomes, wealth and many other indicators, but many are actually widening. This is not a situation to move beyond.