By Lauren | January 19, 2009
It’s Martin Luther King Day, and a great time to take an honest look at your company’s employment practices. In the forty-five years since Doctor King delivered his legendary “I have a dream speech” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, many of the institutions that enforced “official” racial discrimination have either been dismantled or crumbled of their own accord. Sadly, though, true racial equality has yet to be achieved in this country, and nowhere is that clearer than in the upper echelons of business.
Page back through the last year’s business magazines, and you’ll see precious few people of color holding the top jobs in the Fortune 500 companies. That’s unfortunate. For one thing, it’s just plain wrong to deny people opportunities based on race, so anyone who finds excuses not to consider men and women of color for executive positions needs to take a long, hard look at his or her ethics. But it also means that businesses are missing an important opportunity. Americans come in every color and creed, and a successful business is one that understands its customers and knows how to meet their needs. The more diverse a company’s management is, the more likely it becomes that the company will hear a variety of opinions, get a broader range of ideas, and be better able to capitalize on the marketing opportunities that a multicultural consumer base provides. If a company’s executives all look and think alike, there are a lot of perils and potential profits that the company is likely to overlook.
Tomorrow, America will inaugurate its first President of African-American heritage, and it’s about time. This is probably the most important historic event that will occur in my lifetime, and I wish Doctor King had lived to see it. In electing Barack Obama to the White House, American voters have recognized the tremendous benefits that our country can hope to enjoy with this intelligent, thoughtful, well-educated and articulate man as our leader. Isn’t it time for American businesses to embrace the same vision?