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Finley: A workforce that looks like Detroit

From: The Detroit News

By: Nolan Finley

February 26, 2015

Filling downtown Detroit’s lofts and nightspots with a more diverse clientele begins with bringing more diversity to downtown’s office buildings.

Employers hunting for workers in industries most associated with big city downtowns — high tech, financial services, marketing, design, etc. — complain the pool of qualified African-American applicants is extremely shallow in Detroit.

And they have a point — just under 13 percent of city residents have a college degree and nearly a quarter of the population lacks a high school diploma, according to census data.

But is that an excuse for not creating a diverse workforce?

Cindy Pasky doesn’t think so. The chief executive of Strategic Staffing Solutions, a worldwide information technology firm headquartered in the Penobscot Building downtown, has built a representative staff despite odds that are perhaps longer in her industry than in many others.

Nationwide, just 6 percent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs are held by blacks.

At Pasky’s company, 41 percent of the 700 consultants she employs are African-American and 18 percent are Asian. Twenty-three percent of headquarters’ employees are black and 10 percent are Hispanic or Asian. And 28 percent of the executive team is black and 57 percent are women.

It’s one of the more diverse tech business in the region and it didn’t happen by accident. Pasky, who joins me today at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s policy conference to discuss uniting the two Detroits, explains how Strategic Staffing has put together a workforce that looks like Detroit.

Q: You are very proud of the diversity of your workforce. I’m hearing other Detroit businesses talk about the difficulty of recruiting qualified African-American workers, particularly for IT jobs. How do you doit?

A: A successful global workforce isn’t only about having content experts, it’s about having the smartest people who are curious enough to learn, push boundaries, break the rules and iterate. S3 has the procurement and human resources departments to support this. If you asked the S3 team how many of them are in jobs that they had done before, many of them would tell you that this is the first time they are in their current role. The S3 executive team finds talented people who believe in the core pillars of the company, supports them, puts the resources they need behind them and puts them to work. So S3 hasn’t found it difficult to recruit qualified African-American workers for IT jobs. There are talented African-Americans right here in Detroit, across this country and across the globe.

Q: How is diversity good for business, particularly your business?

A: Strategic Staffing Solutions’ success is because of our diversity. We are proud our team reflects the communities in which we do business from age, race, gender, ethnicity and orientation. In 25 years of doing business, we have found that teams that are diverse better reflect the global clients we serve. Teams that have a diversity of experience and learn from each other are committed to S3’s core pillars. This wouldn’t happen if everyone thought the same or looked at the world through the same eyes.

Q: Are Detroit’s institutions supportive enough of African-American start-ups? Are we as excited about the people who are from here and stayed here as we are about the newcomers?

A: No, Detroit institutions are not supportive enough of small businesses. As long as businesses like Canine to Five (a Cass Avenue kennel) have a hard time getting business loans, we aren’t anywhere near where we need to be. Detroit still needs a diversity of opportunities to support start-ups and take start-ups to the next level. Mayor (Mike) Duggan, (development chief) Tom Lewand and the mayor’s team are doing great work and leading in this effort. At S3, we are as excited about newcomers as we are about people who are from here and stayed here. The backbone of Detroit is made of business that could have chosen to leave, gone someplace else, or closed their doors when it was hard. These backbones businesses will be here even if the newcomers decide to leave.

Q: You are one of the few CEOs of a Detroit company who actually lives in Detroit. Does that give you a different perspective, experience?

A: Paul, my partner in and out of work, and I have lived in downtown Detroit for 28 years and S3 has called Detroit home for 25 years. We’ve stayed in Detroit because we love it. … We know the jewels of Detroit that have been here as long as we have. We remember when people thought you had to leave the city for entertainment and it is great to know that 10.5 million people come downtown ever year to take advantage of entertainment and cultural events. Paul and I are unique because we always knew the jewels of the city and never felt like we had to leave. I’ve shopped at Eastern Market since my childhood and I still go every Saturday that I can. What might be unique is that Paul and I know how incredible the city has always been and understand the complexity of Detroit and its history first hand.

Q: Why is it important for the city to have a more representative workforce downtown?

A: Jobs and housing unify Detroit and the city has to have a representative workforce downtown because greater downtown is diverse. Diverse teams have varying life experiences and more uniquely understanding our customer’s needs which help us to craft solutions differently than any competitor. Diversity is the competitive advantage in a global workforce.

Q: Do you worry about the Two Detroits scenario?

A: There isn’t a Two Detroit scenario. People socialize where they live and work and as long as we talk about Detroit like it is only 7.2 square miles we’re missing the point. As the demographic of the city change, demands for different types of services will change. What we’re seeing is about a very different demographic — hipsters and young families, for example — moving into concentrated areas and services popping up to meet their needs.

Q: How does Detroit’s dismal public school system hurt business in the city?

A: Detroit has to have a public school system that prepares children for a global economy. Right now that isn’t happening. Students are graduating not being able to read and without the basic social skills to enter into the workforce let alone specialized fields like STEM. Improving the public school system and programs like the mayor’s initiative to partner with businesses for summer youth employment opportunities are critical for fields like IT.

Detroit Policy Conference 2015

Uniting the two Detroits will be the subject of a panel discussion at today’s policy conference hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber. The conference is 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Motor City Casino Hotel Soundboard.

A 3 p.m. panel, featuring Cindy Pasky, chief executive of Strategic Staffing Solutions; Dennis Archer Jr., owner of Ignition Media; Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey; and Eric Williams, a professor at Wayne State University, will be moderated by Detroit News Editorial Page Editor Nolan Finley and WDIV-TV anchor Devin Scillian.

The day also will feature an opening address by Mayor Mike Duggan and a presentation from Peter Kageyama, author of “For the Love of Cities.”

For more information, go to detroitchamber.com/dpc.