Comedian and Birmingham native Roy Wood Jr. moderated a panel of experts on diversity in the workplace at the Power of Leadership luncheon today hosted by Alabama Power. The panel discussed the challenges minorities face in securing careers and effective ways business leaders can help their employees and communities through diverse workforce development.
- Taffye Benson Clayton, vice president and associate provost for Inclusion and Diversity at Auburn University
- Forest Harper, Jr., president and CEO of INROADS
- Carolynn Johnson, CEO of DiversityInc Media
Johnson, whose company touts the business benefits of diversity, said connecting diverse talent pools with profitability for companies is a key ingredient to the success of developing diverse workforces.
“The business case here is understanding the talent space, especially in a tight labor market which we are right now, and understanding how you connect those relationships,” Johnson said. “Purpose and morale are all important, but profitability is the language you have to use to make sure you are making that connection.”
Clayton, whose team is tasked with expanding Auburn’s diversity and inclusion footprint within the institution and nationally, said mentors of all races can be very helpful in the career development of a non-white workforce.
“They (white mentors) help demystify the process,” Clayton said. “Mentorship, sponsorship, trust, guiding folks through the process is incredibly important. Allies are critical to operationalizing this work.”
Harper, whose nonprofit organization connects salaried corporate internships with corporate and community leadership development, says corporations have a responsibility to help their communities.
“On August 19, 2019, corporate America made a major shift when the Business Roundtable put a new purpose of a corporation on the books, and that purpose was to impact community and society needs,” Harper said. “To that end, corporations should be thinking about not just internships, but partnering with organizations in the community that are taking care of black and brown kids in order to make them part of the workforce and build a pathway that’s sustainable.”
Harper added his organization no longer encourages students to play golf or tennis to fit in with professionals.
“The old trick about whether or not you should go out and play golf or tennis to fit in, that comes up a lot from our students, but we don’t teach that anymore,” Harper said. “We talk about how to get on podcasts, to listen to things that are important to you, and podcasts today are the No. 1 social communicating tool outside of Facebook. So when you see a student with something on, they’re listening to people that are not their color or not from their generation, so we use different vehicles in order to introduce to our young people how to find out more about cultures socially so they’re apt to it when they get into corporate America.”
All three panelists applauded Alabama Power and parent Southern Company for making deliberate efforts to create and sustain a diverse workforce. Johnson pointed to Southern Company’s consistent ranking in her company’s annual list of top 50 companies for diversity process, a ranking derived from the company’s performance in several areas, including talent programs, workforce benefits, supplier diversity and philanthropy.
“There’s a correlation between the philanthropic spirit of an organization and how it treats its workforce,” Johnson said.
Clayton applauded Alabama Power for its consistent work in assisting students.
“Alabama Power has done a tremendous amount of work on the campus of Auburn University to create excellent scholars in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), many of them who are minority students,” Clayton said. “So from a D&I perspective, we see the work of engagement from this corporation every day through our academic excellence program.”
Power Moves, an ongoing series by Alabama NewsCenter, celebrates the contributions of multicultural leaders in Alabama. Visit AlabamaNewsCenter.com throughout the year for inspiring stories of those working to elevate the state.