By Leah Smiley, CDE
Today the Associated Press (AP) reported that the “Wealth Gap is Slowing U.S. Economic Growth“. The AP asserts, “Part of the problem is that educational achievement has stalled in recent decades. More schooling usually translates into higher wages. S&P estimates that the U.S. economy would grow annually by an additional half a percentage point—or $105 billion—over the next five years, if the average the American worker had completed just one more year of school.”
From my perspective, there are two issues going on here: (1) the schools are more diverse than ever before, and too many of us have become complacent with a lower standard of performance within “inner-city” schools. For example, look at the number of school districts around America that are in fiscal distress:
- The Chicago Tribune reports that 121 school districts are in poor to dire financial shape, with 62% operating in deficit spending
- According to Michigan Radio, several school districts need emergency funding from the state to make payroll, including Benton Harbor Area Schools– where there are 40-50 students per class, they don’t bus students, and they cut back on building cleaning services
- Huffpost reports that, “In New York, 13 percent of school districts evaluated recently by the state comptroller’s office were found to be operating with dangerously low or nonexistent fund balances, chronic operating deficits and extremely limited cash on hand. And California saw a record number of school districts in fiscal distress in 2012; currently, eight school districts have negative certifications, meaning that based on current projections, the school districts will not meet their financial obligations for fiscal 2014 or 2015. Another 41 school districts may run out of money by fiscal 2016.”
Not only are some of these districts among the largest in the country, but they are also the most diverse. Keep in mind that by accepting this lower standard for education, it surreptitiously denotes that diversity = lower performance in the workplace.
The second issue is inextricably tied to the first. Because these diverse students will soon approach our workplaces as potential employees, how will it bode for diversity efforts if the people, for whom we are working to ensure equity and fairness, really are on a lower level of performance? It will be hard to make a business case for inclusion.
While the actual law may not have done so well, the notion of “No Child Left Behind” makes a lot of sense. Therefore, as diversity and inclusion practitioners, we must make a strategic effort to connect with other D&I interventions around us. Here is what we must do:
1.) Which K-12 schools, universities, and employers have diversity practitioners? Have you reached out to them to find out what they are doing, or how you can help advance their work? Each year, local universities have diversity conferences. Can you send some employees? Can you provide financial support? Can you speak or secure a speaker from your organization? Can you “adopt” a school and purchase backpacks and school supplies for needy students?
2.) Does your organization have employees who are interested in volunteering? How can they support K-12 schools or the community? Eli Lilly has an annual Global Day of Service, where instead of going to the office, workers disperse in the communities and perform needed projects. Since the Global Day of Service launched in 2008, Lilly employees have given 625,000 hours of service to communities around the world. In 2013 alone, more than 20,000 Lilly employees participated (with pay) in nearly 60 countries, from Barbados to Slovenia.
Or perhaps, you can start a mentoring program at a school in a specialized field, such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math). You could also connect with several different nonprofits, and offer multiple options to members of your employee resource groups.
3.) Support bring your child to work days– but add a little more pizzazz. Encourage moms and dads to participate; think about different work-related activities that the children can observe; and try to coordinate some kind of ‘extra credit’ with the schools to encourage more employers to engage parents and young people in the workplace.
Not only do these efforts provide diverse youth with the resources that they may need, but it may also allow them to see different professionals who care. Notwithstanding, from a business perspective, we are building our organization’s visibility, brand and pipeline.
Why wait until someone contacts you? Take the initiative today to reach beyond your traditional functions and make a difference in the lives of ordinary people, as well as positively impact the value of your organization’s D&I efforts.
Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto: http://www.societyfordiversity.org