As The Fund for Our Economic Future’s “The Two Tomorrows” report illustrates, our region’s economy will never thrive and outperform our past if we don’t close the gaps in employment, income and wealth between whites and people of color. This isn’t just a local challenge. The W.W. Kellogg Foundation estimates that the United States could add 8 trillion dollars to GDP by 2050 if these inequities were eliminated. The city of Buffalo projects that “Closing the racial equity gap in income and wealth would mean an additional $12 billion in wealth for area families.” Cleveland can use its strengths to lead the nation in solving this longstanding crisis.
Doing so is a key component of the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s (GCP’s) recent strategic plan and has been a focus of GCP’s Commission on Economic Inclusion since it was founded in 2001. The Commission engages employers to increase board, senior management, workforce and supplier diversity and tracks performance via an annual assessment of nearly 100 of our largest organizations. Despite these efforts and progress, we, like the rest of the nation, have failed to close the racial economic gap. We and our partners are poised to seek new and innovative solutions.
In March, the Commission hosted 200 CEOs and senior leaders at a program featuring the cofounder of CEO ACT!ON for Diversity and Inclusion, Tim Ryan, U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner of Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC). Tim shared his personal experience developing a more inclusive culture at PwC and detailed why 400 companies nationally have joined the CEO ACT!ON movement.
Thirteen peer cities joined us for this event and stayed for a full-day session the next day, sharing and benchmarking each other’s work on economic inclusion. Those regions commended Cleveland for the work that’s been fostered here and the long-running collaboration of our region’s business, philanthropic and political communities. In fact, in my work across the country, the Commission is considered a pioneer; as a colleague in Knoxville stated to a room of over 30 regions last year, “Cleveland is the gold standard.” Even with our strengths across the sectors, we are not making adequate progress toward more equitable results. It is now time to leverage what we’ve built by innovating ways to close the equity gap.
It is not a simple task. In our 250-year history as a nation, we’ve only had about 50 years where protections against discriminatory practices have existed, and that legacy can’t be reversed by just opening doors. A vivid illustration given in the Racial Equity Institute presentation uses the Monopoly game as an example. One group is allowed to play the game for several hours; then another group is given “equal access” to play the game after the properties have been bought and wealth has accumulated. The second group of course has little chance of competing and finds itself paying high rents to the first group, with very little chance at income or wealth.
Unlike the Monopoly game, our economy isn’t a zero-sum game but instead presents opportunities of expansion into new areas and growth from existing ones. We must however, focus on growth for those who have been left out of the game and we must do so with equity, not equality as our guide. Equity would cause us to focus disproportionately on the disenfranchised group as we fill the thousands of unfilled positions in our region, incentivize development in neighborhoods, expand construction or purchasing in our existing areas of strength, invest in training, deploy capital, and seek talent from the boardroom to the shop floor
It’s time we take advantage as a region of our strength, in recognizing the importance of inclusion and equity. We must develop new actions with intentionality, not just let “others” play the game, but drive growth in income and wealth among citizens and businesses of color which will grow our region and enhance the way our regional economy works to benefit everyone.
Brian E. Hall
Senior Vice President, Greater Cleveland Partnership
Executive Director, Commission on Economic Inclusion
Chair for the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives Diversity and Inclusion Committee