Diversity Through a Historical Lens

As the diversity and inclusion advisor to the ABC show “Shark Tank” and the author of “Kingonomics,” a modern interpretation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s economic vision, Sampson sees the importance of diverse entrepreneurial thinking. He studies political history, particularly that which surrounds King, and applies it to modern workplace strategies. Sampson also serves as the first chief diversity and inclusion officer for One Three Media, a joint venture of Hearst and Mark Burnett Productions, where he identifies and challenges historical parallels in modern business.

Explain the shift that’s occurring in the civil rights movement in focusing not only on social/civil liberties but also on economic liberties for minorities.
With the election of the United States’ first African-American president, we saw an extreme re-polarizing in our nation’s race relations, religion and politics. It appears that the forward motion and collaborative change that so many have been fighting and hoping for has stagnated and even returned to mindsets of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.

In addition, many of the institutions and bodies that were extremely critical and effective in the modern day fight for human and civil dignity have not continued to innovate or re-invigorate their leadership and focus, thus allowing for organizational stagnation as well. Collectively, this has increased the poverty and wealth gap in our nation.

How does entrepreneurship promote diversity?
To this end, we present the case that the entrepreneurial and investment eco-system is the new space in which people of different backgrounds and cultures have come together to do business, create jobs and make a difference. It’s amazing how people put their differences aside for the opportunity to make money and provide a better life for themselves and their families. Even when you study the federal policy that has been passed by our Congress and signed by our president in the last 6 years (and it hasn’t been much), it was the JOBS Act, or Jumpstart our Business Startups Act, that received bi-partisan support. This clearly demonstrates our nation’s willingness to put strong differences aside to do something that will potentially impact the economic outcome of our nation and world.

How does history play a role in current diversity and inclusion policies?
Now, with balance, we can’t forget and must continue to honor the life and legacy of the men and women and organizations that fought and died for the human and civil dignity of all Americans. For it was the 1963 March on Washington organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), Urban League, NAACP, SNCC, National Congress of Negro Women and others that gave the fight for basic human and civil dignity the momentum that was required to finally pass a Civil Rights Bill in 1964 and Voting Rights Act in 1965. For it is this 1964 Bill that has often been used and amended to extend full civil rights to other minority classes in America. Lest we forget that none of these bills were unanimously passed; and that those positions, mindsets and practices still exist within in society and companies today.

Understanding this history and how it impacts the diversity and inclusion consciousness and processes within our companies and societies is extremely important in understanding and maintaining the balance in the policies that are developed and implemented today for the multiplicity of groups within the spectrum of diversity. A perfect example of this is the immigration policy and how that impacts the equal employment and opportunity within our companies. Many immigrants are not waiting for equal pay and benefits to materialize. They are creating the companies that are becoming the suppliers and manufacturers to those same industries and companies.

How can employers help close the economic gap?
Employers can help close the economic and wealth gap by: 1) providing its employees and community with access to economic education, entrepreneurial and wealth building tools; 2) encouraging them to invest in the entrepreneurial eco-system whether this be via crowd-funding or start-ups in their respective community; 3) investing in start-ups that impact their industry or space. Most large companies hire fund managers to invest their company’s profits. More and more, alternative investment classes must be considered in order for their industry and eco-space to grow. Companies could allocate a portion of their companies’ profits to invest in the innovative ideas and start-ups of their employees.

Why should diversity and inclusion executives pay attention to this cause?
Diversity and inclusion executives must develop an overall understanding of how the entire business eco-system works. Traditionally, they look at the integration of diversity from an internal operations perspective (from the boardroom to the basement) and externally via marketing and supplier perspective.

However, all of these companies at one point or another have had to raise capital or are constantly raising (and floating) capital in the public markets to expand and grow their businesses. Therefore, it’s critical for these executives to understand that their company’s investors and investor relations process must also be diverse and inclusive, as it is the shareholders of most companies that have the greatest amount of influence on the future direction of that organization.

Jessica DuBois-Maahs is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.