Racial Inequality at Work: Changing the Game

Adam_Davids
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- 6 min read

Racial inequality is deeply embedded in the USA, Australia and elsewhere. As the world of work continues to transform rapidly, we urgently need to equip all in society to participate and benefit. This means understanding the barriers and helping people navigate through them to self-determination and prosperity.

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The barriers

I see two key factors that make ‘prosperity’ feel like an impossible goal for black people in the USA and my home country of Australia.

  1. Both nations share a racist foundation that has systematically stacked the ‘game’ against black people, and
  2. Our societies are underpinned by democratic, capitalist ideals, and it feels like a maze to navigate for people who have only recently been given access.

This impassioned analogy by Kimberley Jones uses the game of monopoly as a metaphor to characterise the struggle black people face for an equal chance to participate, to ‘win’ and to benefit.

Good fortune comes to those with more experience of the game, who know which strategies win, and who are advised by experienced players.

If you’re black, the chances are that neither you nor your parents have much experience with this game. You have not been taught winning strategies, nor are you tapped into a network of people who can help you avoid the pitfalls of the game.

Teaching the game in America.

In 1963, when Martin Luther King proclaimed “I have a dream”, a white bystander (Princeton Alumnus and Publishing executive, the late Frank Carr) was profoundly moved. Although the Voting Rights Act became law in 1965 and the Fair Housing Act in 1968, Frank realised that the odds were still stacked against racial minorities in America.

So, in 1970 he founded Inroads, a minority internship program whose pioneering model shuffled the playing pieces to improve the odds for African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics. The program included paid summer internships in American companies for high school and college students. It also offered leadership training, coaching and industry mentorship. Over a 50-year history this program has enabled hundreds of thousands to navigate a university education, build a network, and learn how to succeed in corporate America.

The results have been spectacular. In 2015, 100% of the high school seniors were accepted into college, and 82% of college seniors accepted offers from their sponsoring internship companies. Notable Alumni of Inroads include:

  • Thasunda Duckett, CEO Chase Bank Consumer Finance
  • Bill Magwood, former U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner
  • Shanta Owens and Shera Grant, identical twins and District Court Judges in Alabama

This type of change sounds exactly like what Martin Luther King had in mind, when he wrote in 1968 "What is needed is a strategy for change, a tactical program that will bring the Negro into the mainstream of American life as quickly as possible".

In 1990, Mrs King gave a hand-written note to Inroads:

To Inroads, with deep appreciation for your contribution toward making the dream a reality… And for your generous support of the Center… Coretta Scott King, 9/17/90

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Teaching the game in Australia.

As an Aboriginal person in Australia, January 26 serves as a reminder of England’s colonial expansion to Australia in 1788 with the arrival of the ‘first fleet’. Since then, Indigenous Australians have endured genocide and marginalisation. To this day we’ve never yet had an Aboriginal CEO of a major Australian company.

In 2005, Inroads alumnus and successful executive Michael Combs arrived in Australia for a new job. At his first staff meeting he asked: “Where are the Indigenous employees?”. On discovering there were none, he subsequently left his job to extend a hand to Indigenous Australians, like me, by founding CareerTrackers.

CareerTrackers

CareerTrackers was born in 2009 as a non-profit with the goal of increasing representation of Indigenous Australians in professional and private sector employment, and the vision of creating a new and diverse generation of executives.

Based on the Inroads model, it sponsors corporate internships, programs to help participants navigate their studies, and helps them obtain a professional job and build a network of peers and industry leaders.

Those with CareerTrackers have a big advantage. 89% complete their studies as a result of the internship program, ongoing mentoring and leadership development. Sadly, only 47% of other Indigenous students make it to graduation

The early success of CareerTrackers was noticed by other marginalised communities, and we extend a hand to help them establish like-minded programs, as below:

  • TupuToa: In New Zealand this internship program supports Maori and Pasifika university students.
  • CareerSeekers: This internship program, also in Australia, supports Asylum Seeker and Refugee university students and professionals.
  • Papua New Guinea At the invitation of business and political leaders, a program is underway to support university students from remote villages, and women in STEM degrees.

Conclusion

Programs like Inroads and CareerTrackers work in partnership with corporations and do not draw on taxpayer money. But they pay big dividends to society, and the students (and their families). They have a much better chance of securing a sustainable job, a good income and the chance to build intergenerational wealth.

Some argue that black people already have the same access to education and employment, and simply need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Even if that were true – ‘freedom’ and ‘access’ are not end games in themselves. Historically marginalised people need to be shown pathways through the maze and get the confidence-building needed to find prosperity.

Guiding people through an ever-transforming society is a constant struggle. Programs that accelerate this process for disadvantaged people should be a staple in every community.

Finally, I believe that equality is a collective responsibility and that every person of influence and institution has a role to play. As Martin Luther King pointed out in 1965:

“All mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be - this is the interrelated structure of reality."

This post is a guest post by Adam Davids. Adam is Director at CareerSeekers New Australian Internship Program and Director Of Learning at CareerTrackers Indigenous Internship Program.

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Replies (11)

Anita

Anita

Do you have insights on why less than half of the Indigenous students make it to graduation in Australia? And how can that be increased?

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Suzanne Daigle

Suzanne Daigle

So very inspired by the heart and depth of this article. Thank you Adam and Corporate Rebels for always going deeper.

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Robert Kelly

Robert Kelly

Too deadly brother. I have seen first hand the success of the CareerTrackers and Deadly Pathways programs. Also the mentorship offered thrrough programs like AIME. Thanks for writing this.

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James Smith

James Smith

Great read David. We need to connect. Some clear overlaps with our Fulbright experiences and work relating to racial inequalities.

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Brett Sadler

Brett Sadler

You mentioned England's colonial expansion, and I think this is something that applies to most of the old world who all had colonial aspirations.

Much of the old world's wealth was founded on the shameless exploitation of indigenous people across the globe. That debt has largely been ignored, much less repaid. In fact, our political and financial systems have made them indebted to us, which is a real outrage. We pay out minute sums in 'foreign aid' each year and treat it as being an big act of largesse, when we should be looking at how much we stole over the years and developing a plan to pay it back so that those countries (or minority indigenous groups within what are now predominantly white countries) can have the resources they deserve as their right in order ensure education, health and welfare are of an equal standard to the 'developed' world.

Give them back what is rightly theirs, and give them back their dignity.

I hope we can achieve Martin Luther King's dream of all 'sitting together and dining as equals at the table of brotherhood' in my lifetime. It is a damning indictment that, nearly 50 years on, we've made so little progress.

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Adam Davids

Adam Davids

Do you have insights on why less than half of the Indigenous students make it to graduation in Australia? And how can that be increased?

Anita

Hi Anita,

Most of the research points to social and economic factors that cause high attrition. Some suggest that Indigenous students may not have the same academic competence as their peers on arrival at university.

1959 was the first year that an Aboriginal person in Australia completed university. What this means if you are Indigenous - you may not have many people within your immediate reach to turn to for social support as a uni student.

Also, Indigenous Australians earn 66 cents to every $1 earned by all Australians. This makes it difficult for Indigenous parents to send and support their children through an entire degree. Balancing multiple jobs and a degree is tough!

We’ve found that our program caters to a few of the needs Indigenous students have; a support network of like-minded peers, an income, real experience and professional development that compliments university, a good prospect of a job at the end and good mentorship from industry leaders.

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Jenny

Jenny

Great read. Hard to believe that these supposedly "developed" societies are still dragging this inhuman mindset that has destroyed the dreams and lives of millions and millions of people around the world.

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jane rosenzweig

jane rosenzweig

thanks for writing...excellent frame and guidance! 🙏🏼

a related concept i'm trying to develop is something like.."career development reparations"

(yup, that word)

essentially, adapt the beloved (not by me) "HiPo" approaches....accelerated development frameworks for Black employees (and people of color, and any marginalized identity group)....FAIR assessment and then work an active development plan (i think an 18 month time frame is needed, with milestones etc)

work all the other equity and inclusion improvement approaches in parallel but let's recognize and make up for the career limitations of current "mid career" Black employees and avoid the pattern for new employees via an inroads type support infrastructure that continues throughout tenure...💭

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Adam_Davids

Adam_Davids

Picking up on your comments Jane and Brett I auppose their could be any number of ways to push a ‘reparations’ approach. In Australia - the Queensland Government have initiated an approach to repaying stolen wages back to Aboriginal people... though I think the sentiment is that even that falls short by a few million.

Jane - I would love to connect with you if you are open to it? I’d love to kick a few ideas around with you.

I think Australia and America share a false notion that as long as you get a black person a degree - there’s no disadvantage. I think we need to invest considerably in the development of mid-career minority people to stimulate their growth and entry into senior leadership positions.

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Musa Cebani

Musa Cebani

I am Black in South Africa. 80% of South Africas population is Black and less than 11% white adults. In South Africa more than 58% of senior management jobs are occupied by white people. I am a Black male student studying management at University, what are my chances of one day landing a senior management job?

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