With all the billions invested in corporate diversity initiatives, why does the goal always seem to be out of reach?
OK, here is what set me off: an email from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce promoting in big colorful letters the 2019 “Champion of Diversity Award.” Apparently, major awards will be presented at the “Power of Diversity Breakfast” to those businesses that best “promote and value diversity and inclusion,” whatever “inclusion” means.
A case can be made for bringing qualified women and minorities into executive leadership roles or of lending a government hand up to small companies operating at a true disadvantage. But no good case can be made to award executives and government officials for having mastered the art of window dressing.
So what does it mean when a company like Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate commits to “a combined 35 percent MBE and WBE goal” to secure a contract to build a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport? More often than not, it mean that some clever entrepreneurs have learned to work the system well enough to help the Edgemoors of the world make their quotas.
Meeting Impossible Quotas
Edgemoor executives may be as sincere as all get out, but they know from experience that nowhere close to 35 percent of the workers at the KCI work site will be women or minorities. They know, too, the that percentage of African Americans, the group for whom the MBE programs were originally designed, will be much closer to 3.5 percent than 35 percent.
Unlike some industries that simply pay lip service to diversity, the leaders in the building industry are genuinely hungry to attract more minority workers. When the economy is running smoothly—and sometimes even when it is not—the building industry cannot find enough workers, skilled or unskilled. Contractors know they need to expand their pool of eligible workers, and they are eager to do so. Despite their best efforts, however, they are not succeeding.
Doubt me? Just do a little sidewalk superintending at any major construction site in or around the Kansas City area, virtually all of which involve some form of public financing. Now count heads. You will have a hard time finding a head not attached to the body of a white guy. Many of these workers are well into their middle years, which is why industry leaders are keen to replenish the supply. The problem, alas, is beyond their fixing.
The challenge for this sector is two-fold: One part of the problem, industry leaders are eager to talk about. The other major part of the problem, a much more significant one, is one that no one wants to talk about. At least not in public.
The easier part has to do with education. Educators got it into their heads a generation or so ago that everyone should go to college. In the rush to hand out diplomas—in gender studies, floral management, popular culture, leisure studies and the like—they have slighted hands-on training of any sort.
It didn’t use to be this way. The 1940 census, for instance, lists my father, Bill Cashill, as a 21-year-old married man, working as a welder and earning the substantial 1940 sum of $1,900 a year. That’s roughly $35,000 per annum in 2019 dollars.
My father did not learn welding at home. Something of a trend-setter, his old man took French leave—Irish leave, to be more precise—and simply disappeared into the ether when my father was a little boy, never to be heard from again.
When I was young, I kept hoping Bill Sr. would come wandering in one day, fresh from his sojourn in the Klondike, bags of gold dust in his hand, my own personal Scrooge McDuck. This, I learned, only happens in the comic books.
With no father to teach him useful skills, my father went to a vo-tech high school, Newark Central to be precise, the alma mater of the fictional Junior Soprano. He left with a high school diploma—my father, that is, not Joe Soprano—and a range of useful talents, several of which the U.S. Navy put to good use in the bowels of a Pacific-bound LST, and others of which he used to keep our weary childhood home duct-taped together.
Even during the Depression, my
father was the rare kid, black or white,
without a father in the home. Today, he would be in good company. And that brings us to the unmentionable problem: the absence of fathers in the home, especially in the black community.
For all the talk of privilege today, the ultimate “privilege” for a young male is to have a father around the house. More and more often, white males are taking the skills they learned from their fathers and moving right into the work force. Their sisters are considerably less inclined to pursue careers by starting out in construction and the trades, so they go to college.
Although the UMKC chancellor might find this position “extreme,” men and women are different. Recruiting girls to work construction is not a successful strategy. At least not yet.
Recruiting minor-ities should be, but refusing to acknowledge the problem at hand undercuts the effort. Not learning any useful skills at home, many fatherless kids have no place else to learn them. When they exit high school, with or without a diploma, they don’t know how to hammer a nail, let alone weld a butt joint. Compounding the futility is that most of their friends are as clueless—and fatherless—as they are.
Not long ago, the very liberal black CNN host Don Lemon dared to mention the unmentionable. “Black people,” Lemon said, “if you really want to fix the problem, here’s just five things that you should think about doing.” No. 1 on his list dealt with the fatherhood challenges.
“More than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock,” said Lemon. “That means absent fathers. And the studies show that lack of a male role model is an express train right to prison and the cycle continues.” As PolitiFact reported, “Lemon’s commentary inspired a firestorm of criticism on social media.”
If someone like Don Lemon catches that kind of heat, imagine the hell that would rain down on a local build-
ing leader who spoke out as Lemon did. In my book, the “Champion of Diversity Award” should go to the executive who dares to do so.