In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in 2020, corporate America promised to become more inclusive. Faced with public demands for social justice reforms, companies vowed to improve racial and ethnic diversity within their workforces, among their leadership ranks, and on their boards.
While there has been some movement during the last two years, progress overall has been slower than expected. Corporate America is still trying to figure out how to reach equitable diversity levels and make their companies more reflective of the nation’s changing demographics.
As the Executive Chairman and founder of Clayco, a Chicago-based national real estate and construction firm, I see the inequities as well as the challenges firsthand.
Too often, corporations fall back on the usual excuse of not being able to find enough qualified people for the job. It’s easier to just give up than do the work that is necessary to expand the pool of qualified job candidates.
To build a more diverse pipeline of talent for the workforce, we need to address the inequity in colleges today and the fact that Black, brown and low-income families are underrepresented in universities across America. We will not be able to solve the workforce challenges until we strengthen the pipeline.
John and Kathy Schreiber’s recent $100 million gift to Loyola University Chicago—will fully fund tuition and room and board, but more importantly, it will provide funding for the staffing and support services low-income students need to be able to succeed in school. The university has said this gift will kickstart a $500 million endowment that ensures this focus on equity isn’t just a short-term fix but instead a permanent focus for the university.
This creates a model for other philanthropists and universities to follow – to think holistically not just about access to college, but also ensuring success in college; to target students who have been denied access to opportunity – and to focus not just on academic superstars but on all students willing to work hard; to build this focus into long-term plans of the university and scale it in perpetuity.
This type of effort will lead to transformational change, and it shows what it looks like when we mobilize different parts of the ecosystem to create an increasingly equitable society. As more people of color obtain college degrees, employers and business owners in Chicago and across the nation will have a diverse talent pool of young people we can access and train to become the next generation of leaders. It’s clear that college degrees are critical to achieving a higher level of success. In addition to its intangible benefits of education, experience and lifelong connections, a college diploma simply creates a greater opportunity for personal wealth.
A version of this letter was first published in the Chicago Sun Times.