Ironically, Coleman earned high marks at Germantown High, a predominantly white school in Philadelphia. Teachers said his high marks positioned him for a promising career as a chauffeur, not the 1946 Harvard Law School grad Coleman became. But no large law firm would hire him. In 1948, Coleman landed his first job as a federal law clerk, three years after he married Lovida Hardin. Coleman, currently a senior partner with a prominent Washington, D.C. firm is a life-long Republican. His clients include Ford, General Motors, IBM, and Pacific Gas & Electric.
“The necessity to discuss race has dissipated because things have become so much better,” said ReNee’ S. Dunman, assistant vice president of the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity at Old Dominion University, which confers a diversity award each month. ODU also holds a monthly diversity dialogue that is attended by a cross section of the university. Dunman has worked as a diversity practitioner for 17 years. She is also a member of the American Association for Affirmative Action, a more than 1000-member trade organization she headed from 2006-2010.“You would be amazed at some of the conversations that come out in these monthly diversity discussions,” Dunman said. “We believe dialogue does the work.
“But it is a conversation we cannot avoid,” she added. “Don’t stop talking because you feel better. We need to keep talking. So many changes have occurred because of diversity.” For example, many companies are rolling up their sleeves without a lot of fanfare and getting things done, similar to how Pollak, Marshall, and Coleman changed a theory into reality several decades ago.
Many of their success stories appear on exactly one line in Diversity Inc. magazine, which compiles an annual top 50 diversity list. Now in its 13th year, this year’s 50 winners were selected from 587 companies. Participation in the survey increased by 11 percent this year, the magazine reports.
Winning companies are chosen because of CEO commitment, human capital, corporate and organizational communities, and supplier diversity. This year’s top 25 companies include household names such as AT&T, IBM, and Cox Communications.
Cox developed what it calls the Four Pillars of Diversity in 2002. Six years later, Cox formed a diversity council at the corporate level in Atlanta.
The first pillar at Cox focuses on marketing products and services. The other three underpinnings focus on community, people, and supplier diversity—in no particular order, said Barbara Robertson, director of human resources, speaking in a recent phone interview from Cox Communications in Roanoke. “We recognize that we have buying power as a large company,” Robertson said, explaining one diversity pillar at Cox. “So we look at minority vendors to increase our spending with them.
“Cox also has a rich history of reaching out and being a part of our community,” Robertson continued. “So we look at how we can integrate and support our community,” she said, pointing to partnerships with the Boys and Girls Club, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and diversity events including Black History Month. “Cox considered diversity to be a part of our fabric,” Robertson explained. “The benefit is that it is good for business.” In tangible terms, the diversity effort at Cox is producing results. And the company shifted on the Diversity Inc. list from No. 32 in 2006 to No. 25 this year.
Over the years, Cox also added channels that provide programming for Asian, Latin, African American, and female audiences. Cox currently offers programming in more than 70 languages in Northern Virginia. Cox recently received the Distinguished Merit Citation from the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities on March 29. In 2009 in a bad economy Cox set a minority vendor goal of 6.4 percent but ended at about 9.7 percent.
“It is the right thing to do,” Robertson said of the tangible results Cox has produced in recent years. “You’re not just talking but making things happen. When we started we did not know how to move our employees forward but by 2004 we developed training guidelines. Now that’s a tangible,” she said explaining how training guidelines join expectations with responsibilities and accountability. “The awards that we receive are tangible. It shows we’re doing something.”
Sheer numbers are driving diversity efforts, Marya Axner wrote in Understanding Culture and Diversity in Building Communities. “By the turn of the century one out of every three Americans will be a person of color. It is becoming clear that in order to build communities that are successful at improving conditions and resolving problems, we need to understand and appreciate many cultures, establish relationships with people from cultures other than our own, and build strong alliances with different cultural groups.”
Still, Pollak, Marshall, and Coleman worked together long before the dream surfaced. But their efforts have spilled across the landscape and into corporate manuals. To help mid-level minority managers steer their way through large companies career coaches provide guidance.
“As a minority mid-manager on the rise, you are always leery of the snipers out there and all of the micro-inequities that exist in a corporate environment,” said career coach Patricia Hayling Price, who worked her way up at IBM for 24 years. “You’re expected to be faster, smarter, better,” Hayling Price said in a January 15, 2010 interview in NPR. “The stakes are huge.”
The problem is upward mobility for many minority managers, is similar to the document Pollak, Marshall, and Coleman drafted in the 1950s. Upward mobility is still a dream – or at best a work in progress for many minority managers. Many companies have revolving doors that talented minorities enter and leave, frustrated and even angered by the barriers they encountered. Other companies retain talented minority managers who become mired in middle management. “I have found that whites and minorities follow distinct patterns of advancement,” explained David A. Thomas, in Race Matters, in an April 2001 issue of Harvard Business Review. Thomas described a black middle manager who saw a George Wallace for President banner swinging from the ceiling the first day he started to work for a multibillion-dollar electronics corporation.
Yet he eventually reached the executive level at his organization. Thomas asked, “Why did he make it when so many other minorities plateaued in middle management?” People of color who advance the furthest all share one characteristic – a strong network of mentors and corporate sponsors who nurture their professional development. This is where career coaches such as Patricia Hayling Price come in.
“I found that internal confidence was a pain point (for many minority middle managers),” Hayling Price said. “You have people who know how to look and appear confident but in their gut they feel like an imposter. Their confidence is not as strong as they portray. “And the disparity can knock you off of your feet especially when you receive criticism (from a supervisor),” Hayling Price continued. “If you are confident you think, maybe you’re right. If you don’t have that confidence you go to this place of worrying that you don’t have the skills, talent, and training that is needed.
“I like to understand the relationship you are having with yourself” Hayling Price said in a recent telephone interview with the New Journal and Guide. Hayling Price became a career coach five years ago after working 23 years at IBM. There she moved through strategic planning, customer relationship management, market intelligence, market research, and marketing operations.
“We film people and have them observe themselves (at work),” Hayling Price said. “They watch and say, ‘Wow is that what I look like?’ One client said it was an awakening. We talk about developing networks which is not a diversity issue but a people issue. People hire and promote people they like and trust.”
Hayling Price said this kind of coaching would be appropriate for anyone climbing the corporate ladder. A former soap opera actress who now runs a leadership development firm, Management Leadership Practice, she also maintains a private coaching practice, LIVEWORK STRATEGIZE LLC. “Some of us are isolated when we get to certain points in our career,” she explained.
“By getting out of your own way you go from good, great, to distinctive.”
Next Week: Part 3- Understanding Race and Diversity in 2012