Expand the Rooney Rule to businesses, too

It should apply to hiring across the Pittsburgh region to equalize opportunities for minorities

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In 2010 the Pittsburgh metro area was rated 40th out of 40 regions in the United States in conditions for the black working poor and black children. This shocking reality led the leadership of the Black Political Empowerment Project and the Coalition Against Violence to engage Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, then-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, leaders of Allegheny Conference on Community Development and of other area agencies and organizations to initiate the Corporate Equity & Inclusion Roundtable.

The roundtable’s first annual event took place May 13, 2013. It was lauded by all parties as a powerful conversation during which companies and corporations looked at how they could move from “well meaning to well doing,” that is, how they could raise their level of commitment and urgency in making the regional workforce more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

The second annual event, hosted by Duquesne University President Charles Dougherty, Mr. Fitzgerald and Mayor Bill Peduto, will take place Monday from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Duquesne University’s Power Center Ballroom.

The purpose of the Corporate Equity & Inclusion Roundtable is to see more African-Americans and people of color employed, from entry-level positions to the ‘C’ suite, become business owners and win more public and private contracts for construction projects, goods and services throughout the region.

The roundtable’s vision is to bring about measurable and lasting breakthroughs in workforce diversity, equity and inclusion and in economic opportunities.

The roundtable seeks to identify, develop and implement strategies to overcome challenges within the corporate sector by facilitating collaboration among educational institutions, community organizations, workforce-development agencies and professional organizations.

The roundtable aspires to brand our region as a national leader in creating a strong and meaningful commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

At last year’s inaugural roundtable event, Pittsburgh Steelers President Arthur J. Rooney II echoed the roundtable working group in urging corporate Pittsburgh to adopt a “Revised Rooney Rule,” a corporate version of the National Football League’s Rooney Rule. This would make it standard practice to interview African-Americans and people of color not only for top executive positions but for all jobs.

Mr. Rooney also spoke of what the working group called “The Hybrid Rooney Rule,” which would include, in the final round of consideration, firms and companies owned by African-Americans and people of color before awarding contracts for construction projects and for goods and services.

The roundtable working group believes that full implementation of the Revised Rooney Rule and the Hybrid Rooney Rule throughout the region would greatly improve both the employment level and the level of wealth for African-Americans and people of color. This would, in turn, improve conditions for their families, their communities and the economic health of our city, county and region. One of the strongest roots of violence is the absence of access to employment at livable wages or better, and to significant entrepreneurial opportunities.

It is important to note that the lack of equity and inclusion for African-Americans and people of color in our regional workforce is not limited to those at the lower rungs of the employment and economic ladders, but also at professional levels.

For instance, according to a 2012 survey by the National Association for Law Placement, minorities nationwide account for 6.7 percent of law-firm partners and 20.3 percent of associates. In Pittsburgh, minorities accounted for only 2 percent of partners and 8.9 percent of associates (based on information submitted by eight firms with offices in Pittsburgh.) Pittsburgh had the distinction of having the second-lowest percentage of minority partners of the 42 cities represented in the survey.

The 2008 Sustainable Pittsburgh report, “Inclusion in the Workplace,” states that “the hard numbers show that equity and inclusion are directly tied to a region’s economic health. Studies indicate that rising incomes and falling levels of poverty improve metropolitan economic performance.”

The importance of the work of the Corporate Equity & Inclusion Roundtable and other such initiatives can also be seen at the national level, as evidenced by a 2010 Census Bureau study that reported that whites have 20 times the wealth of African-Americans and 18 times the wealth of Hispanics. This is not a formula for a healthy community, state or nation.

We must make a united commitment as a region to change these statistics — and to change them now! This isn’t just a nice thing to do, this is an economic and moral imperative.

Tim Stevens is chairman & chief executive officer of the Black Political Empowerment Project and facilitator of the Corporate Equity & Inclusion Roundtable.

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