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Black leaders advise businesses to lead through action, vision

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WILMINGTON – As corporate America seeks to address calls for racial equity inside and outside its walls, leaders at Delaware’s historically Black university and one of its largest employers say the key is action and vision.

Delaware State University President Tony Allen, who spent a career in nonprofits and financial services before taking the helm of the university of about 5,000 students in Dover, said that he’s long encountered the slow march of progress.

“The common retort is ‘We want Black workers, but we can’t find them.’ And my common retort back to them is, ‘You’re not looking hard enough,’” Allen said during a Dec. 14 webinar hosted by Delaware Business Times and sponsored by JPMorgan Chase. “HBCUs, as one example, graduate 350,000 students every year. That’s 25% of all Black college students across any number of disciplines.”

Dr. Tony Allen, President of Delaware State University, talking during the webinar

The discussion came just days after Chase, the multinational investment bank which employs more than 11,000 in Delaware, donated $1 million to DSU as part of its Advancing Black Pathways initiative to help Black Americans achieve economic success. 

The funds, to be invested over two years, will expand DSU’s Career Pathways office that helps students build portfolios and get real-world experience while in school. It will also enhance faculty development and launch a cooperative, professional development program in select tech-focused degree programs. Finally, the money will create a new business function to work with employers to inform curriculum development and address training gaps, with a specific emphasis on information technology (IT).

“Putting a million dollars to work in an institution that we trust and believe in with outstanding leadership is all part of the plan. Being able to recruit and hire the very best Black talent in America, and Delaware State is squarely in our line of sight, is part of the plan,” said Brian Lamb, global head of diversity and inclusion at Chase. “I also see this as a catalyst for other companies to really understand the importance of a diverse, inclusive body.”

Brian Lamb, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase

Allen agreed, commending the efforts of Chase to date, which include announcing a five-year, $30 billion initiative to address the racial wealth divide and systemic racism.

“The million-dollar gift is great, but what I can tell you is the character of the people I’m working with the JPMorgan Chase is even better,” he said.

When Allen was head of corporate reputation at Bank of America, he said that he advised a multi-pronged approach to achieving inclusivity, including setting public goals, using assets to support Black and Brown communities such as through lending for their small business and homes, and working to diversify your own ranks. Lamb agreed with that approach and noted that transparency plays a key part as well.

He said that Chase is using data to track its vast workforce and requiring a different level of focus and accountability for its most senior leaders to make progress toward diversity and inclusion goals, including tying their performance and compensation goals to it.

While Chase is supporting DSU’s Career Pathways program, it is also looking internally to ensure that opportunities are available for its current workers. Lamb said the company is looking at certification degree pathways and attractive tuition reimbursement programs that would allow workers to keep up with a modernizing economy.

Those metrics will be reported in public annual reports, which will allow Chase to keep track of its progress and inform the company if it’s “off-track or if there’s moments to celebrate,” Lamb said.

“The best way we have seen [diversity and inclusion] work is when it’s business-led,” Lamb said. “Philanthropy is an important and powerful companion solution that lays next to the work that the businesses are driving.”

Lamb emphasized that Chase has committed to making its diversity and inclusion efforts sustainable into the future as well.

“Are they built into the fabric of how we do business?” he asked rhetorically. “Having that level of sustainability in place … means that we don’t go backward, and that we don’t leave anyone behind as we think about the generations to come.”

When asked how small business owners could be a part of the drive toward racial equity, Allen advised that it didn’t have to be grand gestures. He suggested seeking out a minority student for your next intern as one local business did with DSU or ensuring that at least one vendor in a bid process came from a minority or woman-owned business.

“That kind of intentionality builds on itself,” he said.

By Jacob Owens

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