Mar 02, 2011
INROADS CEO Forest T. Harper, Jr. Featured in Diversity Executive
Black History Month and the Key to Advancement in Corporate America
Byline article by: Forest T. Harper, Jr.
Black History Month is a time for recognition of, celebration of and reflection on the contributions of African-Americans. It’s also a time for appreciation and to share the privileges that have been afforded to me by all African-Americans in my family, schooling, and military and work experience.
Unsung heroes of African-American history — like my uncle Walter Crenshaw, all of 101 years young, and a Tuskegee Airman, one of a group of African-American pilots who fought in World War II — inspire me to commit to developing, nurturing and mentoring the next generation of diversity leaders.
One of the best ways to do so is by mentorship. Looking back at my own career, I overcame obstacles and struggles with the help of a community of mentors. I have more than 125 of them, actually. Without them, I would not have been able to attend college, serve six years in the military, rise as an executive at Pfizer over the course of 27 years, and, most recently, become the CEO of a national nonprofit organization.
Mentors are those who help to keep us on the right course and provide necessary wisdom to navigate our careers and eventually lead us to success. They provide the compass at times when we need to expand our comprehension of possibilities. Every true leader is a mentor to others — the two are not mutually exclusive.
Mentors also play a critical role in helping mold diverse talent. That’s what will make a difference in the leadership gaps we see today in corporate America.
There are gaps in diversity in corporate America. This becomes particularly glaring when one considers this historic period of time when we have an African-American president. In 2009, Workforce Magazine stated, “If the CEOs of the Fortune 500 reflected the composition of the workforce, 55 would be black, 70 would be Hispanic, 24 would be Asian and 233 would be women.” There are currently four African-American CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
According to the Executive Leadership Council, African-Americans lost ground in the number of seats on corporate boards earlier in the decade. It added that this is counterintuitive given that statistics demonstrate that those companies whose boards reflect diversity have better returns on equity and sales.
Numerous companies do see the need for diversity within their leadership and make it commonplace for diverse populations to be part of the American corporate structure. It makes good business sense for corporate America, especially at its most senior levels, to mirror the underserved of the country. With the globalization of business and the growing diversity of the U.S. consumer base, the ability to tap the insights, perspectives and sensitivities of a diverse workforce is a true competitive edge. Ultimately, all talented people, without respect to background or race, should have access to leadership positions in corporate America.
Mentoring future leaders to guide them to excel in these roles is the key to filling workforce diversity gaps. Let’s continue to build this country’s future by building up its leaders.
Source: diversity-executive.com, February 22, 2011