The upper echelons face a diversity deficit

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Minorities are expected to make up at least half of the American population by the year 2043. Although the most powerful person in the world is black, the most powerful person in most companies is not.

“We must have management and executives that reflect the community. I think it’s beginning to be more understood,” said Delano Lewis.

Lewis, a former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, is both a KU and Washburn University Law alumnus. He and a panel of minority corporation heads spoke at WU’s diversity symposium Wednesday.

“We look at our corporate leadership, the number of minority CEOs and the number of minorities in high-level positions. We’re still paying the price of discrimination and there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Lewis.

The lack of diversity at the top of corporations isn’t limited to skin color. For the first time in history, more women have college degrees than men – but fewer are signing paychecks. The diversity deficit doesn’t stop there.

“We’re talking about age, we’re talking about gender, we’re talking about religious backgrounds, ethnicity, people who are able-bodied and disabled,” said Diversity Committee Chair Janet Thompson Jackson.

The lack of diversity at the top limits a company’s opinions, ideas and understanding of various cultures and perspectives.

While many employers are making the effort to recruit, interview and hire a diverse payroll, experts say the effort to diversify the workplace usually ends at the entry-level.

“There have been company efforts to just bring people in the door to say ‘Oh we’re diverse, we’ve interviewed X amount of people from diverse backgrounds,’” said Thompson Jackson, “There is little thought given to ‘What do we need to do to really create an inclusive and welcoming environment?' or 'What do we need to do to help them rise to the top in leadership?’”

Panelists say executives must take steps in order for minorities to climb the ladder to the top.

“We’re not going to get to that top level unless the people at the top say ‘We want all of this talent, that comes in all different colors and shapes and forms, to rise,’” said Thompson Jackson.