How Economic Inclusion Can Lead to Success

The key to a better career for people of color is to address opportunity “much earlier than college or the workplace,” the author of “Profitable Diversity” suggests.

Anise Wiley-Little, a human resources and diversity specialist, lives in Chicago.
National Journal
Anise D. Wiley Little
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Anise D. Wiley-Little
Jan. 9, 2014, midnight

Au­thor An­ise D. Wiley-Little is a long­time hu­man-re­sources ex­ec­ut­ive, who served as chief tal­ent ac­quis­i­tion of­ficer and chief di­versity of­ficer for All­state. Now a con­sult­ant, she has shared a chapter from her 2013 book, Prof­it­able Di­versity: How Eco­nom­ic In­clu­sion Can Lead to Suc­cess, called “Class, Eco­nom­ics, Race, and Gender.”

Di­versity had an early found­a­tion in equity in re­gard to race and gender, but as it evolves, ask if it’s now more about poverty and class. As pro­gress with di­versity is el­ev­ated, keep an open mind by look­ing for great­er ad­vance­ments in the field be­cause a clear vis­ion of what is really hap­pen­ing around us is ne­ces­sary. Fair­ness is what is sought as we strive for great­er achieve­ment. Most every­one wants to play by the same rules and have a fair shot, but is that pos­sible?

Re­gard­less of race, where is crime most per­vas­ive? Typ­ic­ally, the most so­cial chal­lenges are found in eco­nom­ic­ally im­pov­er­ished areas. Re­gard­less of gender or race, whom do we find suc­cess­ful people spend­ing their time with? Most of­ten, oth­er people with­in their own eco­nom­ic class.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tion­al Cen­ter for Chil­dren in Poverty’s re­port “Im­prov­ing the Odds for Ad­oles­cents Ju­ly 2011,” low-in­come chil­dren con­tin­ue to feel the ef­fects of poverty throughout their work­ing lives, in­clud­ing poor em­ploy­ment out­comes. The United States is one of the few places that, des­pite the situ­ation you are born in­to, you can move your­self from poverty to prosper­ity. But those num­bers are small. In the UK, this has been ad­dressed through the Deputy Prime Min­is­ter’s So­cial Mo­bil­ity Strategy through the Busi­ness Com­pact, which en­cour­ages the hir­ing of those from all so­cio-eco­nom­ic back­grounds.

The Num­bers Tell the Story of Change

Is it time to think about di­versity in a new paradigm? The num­ber of low-in­come in­di­vidu­als is grow­ing in rur­al areas. The Rur­al School and Com­munity Trust’s re­port “Why Rur­al Mat­ters 2011”“2012: The Con­di­tion of Rur­al Edu­ca­tion in the 50 States” notes in­creased rates of poverty in rur­al Amer­ica, some due to the grow­ing His­pan­ic pop­u­la­tions in the South, South­east, and Ap­palachia. Poverty over­all has grown in the South­w­est, South, and Mid­w­est.

The re­cog­ni­tion of poverty and class leads us to the next level of dis­cus­sion, which is to ask who is fo­cus­ing on these broad­er is­sues. How can so­cial sci­ent­ists and the gov­ern­ment be­gin to raise the pro­file of the con­ver­sa­tion so that we can in­ten­tion­ally shape the years to come? It can be said that the busi­ness case is clear, but when we have to con­tinu­ally jus­ti­fy the ex­ist­ence of di­versity and its ad­vant­ages or dis­ad­vant­ages, the busi­ness case de­vel­op­ment, which may be clear to some, con­tin­ues to hold an elu­sive prom­ise for oth­ers.

It’s true that the wealth gap con­tin­ues to widen between whites and minor­it­ies ac­cord­ing to the new census data. The Pew Re­search Cen­ter says the me­di­an wealth of white house­holds in 2009 was $113,149, com­pared to $6,325 for His­pan­ics, and $5,677 for blacks.

Poverty rates among minor­it­ies con­tin­ue to rise for all groups ex­cept for Asi­ans. Wo­men may rep­res­ent a sig­ni­fic­ant por­tion of the U.S. work­force, but their wages are still strug­gling to meet par­ity. They are still at 77 per­cent of what men make ac­cord­ing to the U.S. census in Septem­ber of 2010. The me­di­an earn­ings for wo­men of col­or, ex­cept Asi­ans at 90 per­cent, are even lower.

The Lack of Op­por­tun­ity

The dif­fer­ence is op­por­tun­ity. To af­fect this lack, it must start early, much earli­er than col­lege or upon entry to the work­place, which is where most or­gan­iz­a­tions want to spend their time and money. The only place that touches most chil­dren con­sist­ently is school, which is where change be­gins. This is where our in­vest­ment should be­gin. However, or­gan­iz­a­tions want in­stant grat­i­fic­a­tion by in­vest­ing in di­versity re­cruit­ing from col­leges or provid­ing in­tern­ships to the un­der­priv­ileged. With the lack of that in­vest­ment earli­er in the cycle, those without op­por­tun­ity start life at a dis­ad­vant­age.

Yes, some will pull them­selves up des­pite their life cir­cum­stances, yet oth­ers, even if they do pull them­selves to a bet­ter place, have faced a more chal­len­ging road. Cor­por­ate Voices for Work­ing Fam­il­ies, the lead­ing na­tion­al busi­ness mem­ber­ship or­gan­iz­a­tion rep­res­ent­ing the private sec­tor on pub­lic policy is­sues, sup­ports busi­ness and edu­ca­tion part­ner­ships that en­cour­age or­gan­iz­a­tions to start early in the pro­cess and ul­ti­mately im­pact tal­ent man­age­ment. Their re­search is de­vel­op­ing a num­bers-based busi­ness case com­pel­ling busi­ness lead­ers to take the lead in early de­vel­op­ment of a di­verse tal­ent pipeline.

So­cial Justice

There has been little con­sist­ency in the re­cent re­search of di­versity and so­cial justice. Some prac­ti­tion­ers be­lieve there is no longer room for so­cial justice in the di­versity equa­tion, while oth­ers be­lieve we must think out­side the box to ex­pand our un­der­stand­ing of di­versity. Prof­it­able di­versity can be seen as a meas­ure of suc­cess that provides an ad­vant­age, which may be in dol­lars, to a great­er good as well as in­creased in­nov­a­tion, ef­fi­ciency, or col­lab­or­a­tion. In or­der to move closer to any of these be­ne­fits of di­versity, we must fully ex­plore the ten­ets that may im­pact how we think about it, in­clud­ing the eco­nom­ics.


One could eas­ily ar­gue that the white per­son in poverty without ac­cess to in­dustry and jobs should also be a fo­cus of di­versity, rather than the Latino in­di­vidu­al in the sub­urbs of a large city who has ac­cess to the many pos­sib­il­it­ies of edu­ca­tion and cul­ture. In­sti­tu­tion­al bar­ri­ers still ex­ist, al­though cir­cum­stances can and do have an im­pact on the long-term ef­fects of one’s suc­cess. Money or birth­right can el­ev­ate your class and provide you the priv­ilege of ac­cess.

Con­sider the fol­low­ing scen­ario: In cer­tain situ­ations, a white child raised in poverty may have more op­por­tun­it­ies or face less scru­tiny be­cause of be­ing born white, but both the white child of poverty and the Latino child of priv­ilege each face unique is­sues. In eval­u­at­ing dif­fer­ences, shouldn’t all dif­fer­ences in­clud­ing eco­nom­ic be ex­plored for po­ten­tial bi­as?

The Eco­nom­ics

The premise of so­cioeco­nom­ic is­sues be­ing a level of di­versity does not ig­nore the com­plex his­tory of the United States or the cur­rent is­sues of im­mig­ra­tion af­fect­ing more than simply those cross­ing the bor­ders of Texas, Cali­for­nia, or Ari­zona. It is im­per­at­ive to ac­know­ledge mis­ce­gen­a­tion laws that placed blacks at the bot­tom of the class sys­tem, lower than white in­den­tured ser­vants who had lived peace­fully with blacks be­fore those laws.

My own par­ents, who were both born in Little Rock, Arkan­sas, were in high school dur­ing the time of the Little Rock Nine and ex­per­i­enced firsthand the ra­cial ten­sion, so­cial up­heav­al, and civil un­rest. Giv­en that we are not yet a “post-ra­cial” so­ci­ety as some may sug­gest, there must be an ac­know­ledg­ment of sys­tem­ic bi­as and overt or subtle ra­cism that im­pacts un­der-rep­res­en­ted groups re­gard­less of their class. This premise only al­lows that di­versity has many lay­ers of com­plex­ity.

Even armed with edu­ca­tion, nav­ig­at­ing cor­por­ate Amer­ica and the many un­spoken rules can be chal­len­ging for any­one, but even more so for one with lim­ited ex­pos­ure, ac­cess, or spon­sor­ship. Charles Mur­ray ex­plores the white lower class and the de­clin­ing middle class in his book Com­ing Apart: The State of White Amer­ica, 1960­”“2010. The priv­ileged ma­jor­ity will re­main power­ful for many gen­er­a­tions to come be­cause of the wealth they hold, of­ten due to the com­plic­ated ac­quis­i­tion of land by their fore­fath­ers that blacks and oth­ers, even those well edu­cated and priv­ileged, will nev­er have ac­cess to. There is only so much prime ocean­front prop­erty to be ac­quired.


If you have already been ex­posed to travel, ex­ec­ut­ive role mod­els, and qual­ity life and edu­ca­tion, you may have a nat­ur­al, au­then­t­ic ex­ec­ut­ive pres­ence that provides you a head start. Fam­ily his­tory or leg­acy can trans­late in­to ap­pro­pri­ate con­nec­tions. This could also be in­ter­preted as the dark side of as­sim­il­a­tion, but we know that ment­or­ing is not enough; it’s about spon­sor­ship, who you know and who knows you. In most pro­grams that want to see the ad­vance­ment of the di­verse pop­u­la­tion, par­ti­cipants tend to be over-ment­ored and un­der-sponsored based upon ac­cess.

Most will need to seek their own spon­sors out­side of the struc­tured tal­ent man­age­ment pro­cess. These are the re­la­tion­ships that form nat­ur­ally when an ex­ec­ut­ive is will­ing to tell you the real story, speak up for you in the suc­ces­sion meet­ing, give you that risky as­sign­ment, and be there if you fail be­cause he or she feels a pos­it­ive con­nec­tion to you. When you are com­fort­able in a par­tic­u­lar circle of people, this may be an in­vis­ible ad­vant­age. People like you or with the same ex­per­i­ences or life­style can be drawn to you re­gard­less of race or gender or ori­ent­a­tion without real­iz­ing why. When we talk about hir­ing in our own im­age, it’s not al­ways lim­ited simply to race, gender, gen­er­a­tion, or sexu­al ori­ent­a­tion.

Everything prac­tic­al tells us that we should pay at­ten­tion to many di­men­sions of di­versity, in­clud­ing some that don’t com­monly come to mind. In an age of cul­tur­al di­versity, fast-paced eth­nic growth, and in­creased un­der­stand­ing of the LGBT com­munity, our so­cio-eco­nom­ic class is also a ne­ces­sary part of what we bring to the table that defines how and who we are.

What We're Following See More »
McMullin Leads in New Utah Poll
17 minutes ago

Evan McMul­lin came out on top in a Emer­son Col­lege poll of Utah with 31% of the vote. Donald Trump came in second with 27%, while Hillary Clin­ton took third with 24%. Gary John­son re­ceived 5% of the vote in the sur­vey.

Quinnipiac Has Clinton Up by 7
19 minutes ago

A new Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity poll finds Hillary Clin­ton lead­ing Donald Trump by seven percentage points, 47%-40%. Trump’s “lead among men and white voters all but” van­ished from the uni­versity’s early Oc­to­ber poll. A new PPRI/Brook­ings sur­vey shows a much bigger lead, with Clinton up 51%-36%. And an IBD/TIPP poll leans the other way, showing a vir­tu­al dead heat, with Trump tak­ing 41% of the vote to Clin­ton’s 40% in a four-way match­up.

Trump: I’ll Accept the Results “If I Win”
1 hours ago
Duterte Throws His Lot in with China
4 hours ago

During a state visit to China, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte "declared an end to his country’s strategic alignment with the United States and pledged cooperation with Beijing." Duterte told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he's "realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world—China, Philippines, and Russia. It’s the only way.”

Hatch Considering 2018 Re-election Run
5 hours ago

Reports say that Orrin Hatch, who in 2012 declared that he would retire at the end of his term, is considering going back on that pledge to run for an eighth term. Hatch, who is the longest serving Republican in the Senate, is unlikely to make any official declaration until after this election cycle is completed.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.