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Beyond the Moment: Long-Term Employer Commitment Key to Achieving Economic Equity

By Jacquie Goetz 

In the months since protests over racial injustice began springing up in cities across the country, Wayne County Community College District Chancellor, Dr. Curtis L. Ivery, has seen an increase in the number and urgency of conversations with corporate partners about building a more diverse workforce.

“I’ve been having a lot of meetings,” he says. “Companies are being tremendously open to collaborating. We have to push that. We have to talk about how we develop a workforce that is representative of a city that is 85 percent people of color.”

Dr. Ivery suggests a first step toward that goal is acknowledging, and then challenging, long-held stereotypes.

“For example, when many people think of Detroit Public Schools, they think of students who are coming out less prepared and in need of remediation, which is a misnomer,” he notes. “When we do that, we are not being fair to the process.”

Nicole Sherard-Freeman, Executive Director of Workforce Development for the City of Detroit, feels similarly.

“We have to stop talking about people as deficits,” she notes. “We have to stop talking about barriers and shift our mindset to see the workforce in Detroit as an asset.”

She points to the commitment that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has made to the city and its workforce in building its new plant in Detroit and bringing approximately 5,000 job opportunities to the city in the process. The city’s Detroit at Work community engagement and outreach strategy is helping connect ready and able talent in the city with FCA and is doing the same for other businesses in the city.

“The Detroit at Work model uses well-established community partners as trusted third-party validators and leverages relationships with clergy, community-based organizations, City Council members and everyone in the network as an ambassador for opportunity,”
Sherard-Freeman explains.

“This has proven to be a really good way to get Detroiters connected to opportunity, and as importantly, to get employers connected to the workforce.”

Despite this positive traction, Sherard-Freeman cautions that racial equity doesn’t come simply through hiring from a pool of diverse candidates or hiring more people of color.

“Racial equity also comes through opening up opportunities in your supply chain for businesses of color to apply,” she notes. “It’s making capital more readily available and making more transparent the decision-making process in large organizations so that small organizations have a shot.” In short, it’s a long-game approach.

“We’re looking forward to commitment beyond the moment,” Sherard-Freeman continues. “We’re looking forward to working with the employer community, community groups, clergy and residents to take this moment – that has turned into a movement – and making it a sustainable way of operating.”

Jacquie Goetz Bluethmann is a Michigan-based freelance writer.