What Will it Take?

It was recently noted that a major company headquartered in Detroit hired forty-two marketing summer interns, and boasted these hires in a group picture as shared on social media by one of its leaders.  While it’s great that these students will gain real-life experiences in their field of study and interest, there was a blatant omission from the group:  black students.

In a city that is predominately African American, it would be a natural question to ask why there were no black students in this intern pool.

The country is experiencing a movement unlike recent times.  With calls for social justice, fairness and equity, there have been mostly peaceful protests across the country, including Detroit.

This movement has been driven by a cross-section of people reflecting diverse backgrounds, including age, race, gender, et. al.   In other words, one can argue a microcosm of the society-at-large.

As a result, many organizations have released commitment statements and videos expressing their desires for equality and equity, not only in society, but in the workplace, too.

Many organizations have vowed to increase financial commitments supporting causes focused on change.

And, while that is all great, there’s still a significant and apparent “gap” between intent, words and actions.

African Americans account for over 80%, 22% and nearly 14% of the total population in this city, region and state, respectively.

But it appears that African Americans account for less than 5% of overall marketing intern hires.

This picture reflects more than just the 2020 intern pool; it reveals a severe lack of representation at a company who has blatantly or inadvertently overlooked the community it serves while providing opportunities for those who may or may not reside here.

And in a predominantly Black city, why must inclusion and respect be continually sought for by those who live here?

From corporations who are located here who continue to ignore their public commitment to diversity to “new” Detroiters who now stake claim to a city they once feared and are comfortable disrespecting those who’ve always been here, there is something very wrong with the equation that has become our reality.

And this reality is not about another “commitment statement,” video or getting incremental dollars to check another program on the virtual Diversity & Inclusion training box.  It’s more than a campaign or promise at a business luncheon. It’s a matter of serious commitment to change the complexion of business.

The challenge is simple:  recruit and hire those who are a representation of communities served.  It broadens the learning experience for all while providing further opportunities for engagement with those from diverse backgrounds.

The bottom line is bringing and having people at the table–even as early as interns.

Can it make a difference?  Absolutely!

Having been at many tables and mentored many employees, opportunity matters and makes a difference.

And it makes good business sense.  A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation.

But unfortunately, we’re still having this conversation in 2020 because much needed changes haven’t happened and we still find ourselves asking, why?

Companies must commit to D & I initiatives beyond the corporate campaign; they must want more from minorities than their dollars as consumers and be willing to invest beyond a tax-deductible contribution.

Change—like attitudes—starts at the top and then and only then, will there be a real change in landscape and representation.  At that point, we’ll get the picture and it won’t be monochromatic.



Mark S. Lee is Founder, President & CEO, The LEE Group, and can be heard “In the Conference Room”, Sundays, 11 am, on 910am, and you can listen to “Small Talk with Mark S. Lee” podcasts at leegroupinnovation.com/

Karen Dumas is a communications strategist who served as Chief of Communications for the City of Detroit under Mayor Dave Bing. She is also the co-host of the No BS Newshour with Charlie LeDuff.