By 2050, 50 percent of the United States population will be non-White, making today’s racial minorities the majority. But in America in the 1950s it was still illegal for a man and a woman of different races to marry.
This was true for the parents of Soledad O’Brien, the acclaimed special investigations correspondent and host of CNN’s “In America” documentaries, who served as the keynote speaker at the Third Annual Pittsburgh Diversity and Leadership Conference.
“I used to ask my mother what it was like walking down the street, an interracial couple with all these biracial children,” O’Brien said. “Fast forward to today, and somehow I have come to represent what America looks like. And I get to tell those stories now.”
In her remarks to the guests at Duquesne University on Sept. 13, O’Brien used her family’s story to show how change and diversity are inevitable. In 1958 when O’Brien’s parents were married, interracial marriage was illegal in many states and in 1968, the year her parents had their sixth child, laws against having biracial children were finally reversed.
“I think that’s what the true shaping of diversity is like, understanding that the country is changing,” O’Brien said. “I think it’s constantly about pushing past what people expect of you in ‘that box.’”
She also discussed how she works to promote change and diversity in her profession as a journalist. During her time with CNN she has worked on documentaries examining the Black, Latino, Muslim and homosexual communities.
“I enjoyed digging into conversations that were often uncomfortable. I thought if you could highlight these voices that were often unheard, everyone could learn something,” O’Brien said. “The person who is willing to stand up has all the power. The person who has all the power is the one who refuses to move on and insists on being a witness. And for me that’s what journalism is all about.”
Beyond O’Brien’s comments around the moral case for diversity, a majority of the conference examined the business case for diversity and how diversity programs can be implemented in corporations and other business entities.
“The only way for it to become effective is for the people at the top to be sincerely invested,” said K. Chase Patterson, CEO of Corporate Diversity. “It’s a level of commitment that is sincere and consistent in order to work its way down through the system.”
The business case for diversity has become common knowledge: a diverse workforce leads to diverse ideas, which creates connections to diverse clients. However, corporations often find themselves only implementing diversity programs because they are facing a lawsuit or in danger of facing a lawsuit.
Patterson’s company does work attracting diverse talent to Pittsburgh and helping corporations implement diversity programs. A similar organization, Vibrant Pittsburgh, also works to attract and retain diverse talent in Pittsburgh.
“At Vibrant Pittsburgh, what we’re trying to do is mobilize a community for change,” said Melanie Harrington, CEO of Vibrant Pittsburgh. “So diversity at its core is really about change and complexity.”
Patterson and Harrington were panelists in the session titled “Business Case for Diversity: Who’s Leading the Pack in our Community.” Both said PNC and UPMC are examples of Pittsburgh corporations who have demonstrated strong diversity programs.