As more and more companies make public commitments around improving the diversity of their workforce, I keep coming back to one word: access. In my role leading talent acquisition efforts for one of the top employers in the US, thinking about how the business community creates, enables, and grants access is a priority of mine.
Access unlocks opportunity. Studies have found that a community’s lack of access to grocery stores with healthy food options often results in health issues and associated complications. There are volumes of research to show how a lack of access to quality education, including too-large class sizes, insufficient resources, and limited one-on-one mentorship can negatively impact a students’ development and exposure to job opportunities. Access is at the root of these societal issues — and they continue to primarily impact people of color.
Creating access is the reason behind my involvement with the Posse Foundation, a non-profit that enables minority communities to have access to college and leadership programs. As a Black man, the concept of access is personal — it means opening the doors of opportunity and creating a more level playing field for individuals that remind me of myself 25 years ago. As a personal passion Posse has been away for me to help young people in my community break down barriers.
Despite recent diversity commitments from across the business community, we’re still in a world where access is a privilege. And it’s important to note that the pursuit of diversity isn’t just about doing the right thing — studies and experience have come to the same conclusion: Diversity is good for business. A tremendous body of research supports the need for diversity of talent and thought in business and the impact that diversity can have on team morale, workplace culture, innovation and, ultimately, the bottom line.
Yet without access, a lot of very talented people aren’t able to participate in higher education, much less the top colleges in the country, and they aren’t considered for leading opportunities. We’re then left with a vicious lose-lose cycle — missing out on the creativity, ingenuity, and contributions of racially/ethnically diverse individuals. Well-intentioned commitments to advance diversity and inclusion efforts in Corporate America may flop if we don’t fix the access problem now.
This is why PwC is renewing our Access Your Potential (AYP) initiative and aspiring to hire 10,000 Black and Latinx college students into the firm by 2026 while equipping an additional 15,000 students with the skills needed to enter the workforce. AYP will help to build a more equitable future for these Black and Latinx college students by providing high-demand digital and career readiness training and upskilling, mentorship, and additional pathways to start their careers.
Beyond these larger initiatives in the business community, there are also smaller, impactful ways to create access and one way is through recruitment. While it’s a commendable start, HBCU and HSI engagement should go beyond job fairs and requires organizations to truly invest in building relationships with students and faculty members while playing a greater role in equipping diverse talent with the digital and career skills, credentials and mentorship to be even more competitive in today’s job market. How an organization improves access needs to be the bedrock of any HBCU or HSI relationship.
In reflecting on our 20+ year journey in working in this space, we’ve learned three important lessons about how business leaders can reshape their work with HBCUs and HSIs and improve access:
Engage the faculty
Over the years, one of the most consistent pieces of feedback we hear from faculty is that they feel more value from working with employers if there is a strong relationship. Becoming an authentic and engaged part of the university community is just as important as hiring their students. Building relationships takes time and deliberate action but can be accomplished by identifying specific relationship owners, establishing regular touchpoints, and immersing oneself in university events and curriculum. This can help to build a mutual understanding of some of the biggest roadblocks and challenges that students and faculty members face. Only through this kind of common understanding and open dialogue can corporations help drive meaningful change.
Once a year, PwC brings together HBCU faculty for an annual Faculty Forum where we discuss important issues, empower and share resources, and give a university relations update. We’ve also had the chance to expose educators to the skills we look for in our workforce and help create relevant, digital-focused curriculums that they can bring back to their universities to position their students to be more competitive in our digital economy. This is a two-way conversation where faculty members are also encouraged to share feedback with PwC around ways to improve the relationship and unlock additional sources of access for the students.
Engage the majority in an HBCU or HSI strategy
Through our experience, we have found three things that often stand in the way of HBCU or HSI students’ career success: exposure, lack of resources and limited mentoring. By the time students realize internships are critical and have the information necessary to apply, there sometimes isn’t enough time to properly prepare for them.
Understanding the student journey is important and requires a dynamic and hands-on engagement strategy. Rather than involving a small group of professionals, engage the employee population, with a specific focus on involving more than the business’ Black or Latinx employees. Expand beyond standard recruiting efforts and kick-off an ongoing mentorship program that welcomes diverse students and exposes them to valuable, on-the-job learning opportunities and development. Given how this population leverages social media, consider expanding awareness and motivating students with digital-first events and experiences.
Access doesn’t stop at the moment someone is hired. Our data shows that the first two years are a leading indicator of success, especially for our diverse colleagues. To engage and retain these employees requires a refreshed approach to their onboarding process, networking, performance development, mentorship, sponsorship and training. These touchpoints go beyond the recruiter and tap into many people within an organization throughout multiple stages of an employees’ onboarding and coaching experiences. By engaging the majority throughout an employee’s journey, companies can build a stronger foundation that is so critical to their employees’ long-term success.
Preview the career opportunity
Evaluating a career includes a variety of information sources, but there is nothing like a candidate’s own experience. While most internships cater to later stage undergraduates, it’s important to think about how you can welcome students as early as possible.
AYP does just that and provides students the access, mentorship and skills to start and build a competitive career. Additionally, a few years ago, we introduced Career Preview, a program designed for college freshmen and sophomores who self-identify as members of a traditionally underrepresented minority community. This program offers students an inside look at real on-the-job experience while helping them develop leadership skills and laying the groundwork for them to potentially become part of our diversity internship called Start. By welcoming students at the beginning of their academic journey, our hope is to offer invaluable insight into a future career and kick start a professional network.
Access shouldn’t be a privilege, it should be a right. We are committed to increasing our Black and Latinx representation among our experienced hires, entry-level hires, and interns. And while PwC has tripled our hires from Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the past three years, there is still much work left to be done.
I am inspired by the business community’s commitment to do more — now is our time to unlock access and remove systemic societal barriers for those who need it most. Through focused and active collaboration, we can help to overcome the historical gaps in opportunity that have been faced by Black and Latinx students. We can accelerate progress and continue helping to build a more diverse, inclusive and tech-enabled workforce. Together, we can have more impact than any of us have by ourselves.