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Will this be the moment businesses get serious about racial bias in hiring?

Jackie Crosby, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

Lewis, who also is black, has known Bryant since college. He saw her determination as she juggled several consulting jobs with small nonprofits, picked up freelance writing jobs and resorted to getting part-time work as a Walmart cashier and a call center worker to pay the bills.

When he heard about a well-paying job at a company whose leader had been talking for years about hiring more people of color, he urged that executive to talk to Bryant.

"I look at my own career path and I always had an advocate," Lewis said. "If you don't have that advocate you're lost. You're out there looking for a job and it's a shot in dark."

Facing hard truth

The executive Lewis introduced to Bryant, Mike Harley, for 24 years has led Environmental Initiative, a Minneapolis-based firm that works with businesses and government on environmental issues. A few years ago, Harley said the 22-person company had what he called "a moment of reckoning."

"We had to confront this reality that communities of color -- Native Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics -- suffer a disproportionate share of pollution and the health impacts," he said. "How is it that the people most impacted by the focus of our work are not represented inside organizations that are advocating for the change?"

 

Harley described the disconnection as an existential problem for what has been a "white-led movement" of environmentalists.

"What is it that results in a mostly white staff, with rooms full of mostly white people -- mostly men, mostly older, mostly college educated, mostly urban?" he asked.

Harley made a deliberate effort to expand his network, get to know people of color. That's when he met Lewis, who is an environmental justice consultant.

"I'll be honest," Harley said. "He and other leaders were quite critical of an organization that professed to be concerned with equity, yet still was lagging in a staff that reflects the kind of racial and cultural diversity we need to be impactful."

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