In recent years, the campaign for equality in employment has fallen under the label of diversity and inclusion. However at the Diversecity 365 Living Legend Honors Luncheon and Inclusion Series on April 25, speakers called for a return to the days of affirmative action.
“What I am most concerned about is this term diversity because with this new terminology it has taken the emphasis off of affirmative action and equal opportunity employment,” said Alma Speed Fox. “We have to make sure these people who are in power remember affirmative action and equal opportunity employment.”
ALMA SPEED FOX
(Photo by J.L. Martello)
Fox was this year’s winner of the Community Champion Award. As a lifelong civil rights activist, she said there has been a lot of progress made toward equality in employment, but there is still more work to do.
“We developed this award to recognize outstanding efforts that move diversity forward in our city and region,” said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. “We’ve experienced an increase in female and minority applicants. I’m happy that we’ve made some strides, but I want to emphasize the importance of making more progress.”
Sharing this year’s Champions of Inclusion honor was Phillip Petite, manager of the city’s Equal Opportunity Review Commission, who received the Employee Champion Award. Although Petite said he wasn’t aware of the racial inequality growing up, he said it is still an ever-present element of this city and region.
“This is a continuing effort and it’s never going to stop. This is our city and whatever happens to anybody, happens to all of us,” Petite said. “When I see unions graduating classes that aren’t diverse at all, there’s a problem there.”
Following the awards luncheon, guests were invited to participate in panel discussions. While many recent campaigns for diversity have tried to sell it as a business strategy, these discussions titled “Diversity, For What?” refocused the conversation on the morality of diversity.
“What we have is corporations just checking off a box to pretend they’re focused on diversity,” said Debra Mason, president, Victory Management. “Whenever we have cutbacks, the first thing we lose is that diversity office.”
The panelists in two separate sessions agreed people are afraid to make a strong stand for diversity. Several of the panelists also said African-Americans cannot fight against racial discrimination while ignoring discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“We need to take every opportunity we have to model the behavior we wish everyone would exemplify,” said Rick Adams, executive director of Community Relations & Outreach at Community College of Allegheny County. “I’ve never heard anyone who is an advocate for diversity and inclusion say you have to hire people whether they’re qualified or not. We’ve got to push the envelope.”
Despite the overwhelming agreement by everyone at the panel that diversity is “the right thing to do,” many questioned how diversity initiatives could be implemented to produce results.
“We have to make diversity a part of that person’s compensation structure,” said Davie Huddleston, vice president of diversity and inclusion, PNC. “If you say diversity is tied into a person’s compensation structure, people will change.”
The other nominees for the Community Champion Award were Dina Clark, director of race and gender equity, YWCA; Ola Jackson, founder, ONYX WOMAN Magazine; Richard Morris, director of efficiency and workforce development, HACP; Cecile Springer, president, The Women and Girls Foundation; John Welch, president, Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network; and Sumana Misra-Zets, director of diversity initiatives, CCAC.
The other city employees nominated for the Employee Champion Award were Duane Ashley, director of operations; Maurita Bryant, assistant chief of police; Lisa Epps, master fire fighter; Ed Gainey, economic development manager; Nathan Harper, chief of police; Margaret Lanier, city treasurer; and Yarone Zober, chief of staff.