50th Anniversary March on Washington—Our Successes and Continued Challenges

Last month thousands of people went to D.C. to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Junior delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. This first march focused on civil and economic rights for African Americans and has been credited with advancing the passage of both the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.

Since the 1963 March on Washington, there have been many notable accomplishments made by women and people of color in business, sports, education, science and politics, including the election of the first African-American president, President Barak Obama.

Corporate America has embraced diversity and led the way in supporting the business case for diversity. In doing so, corporations have greater workforce diversity; employee resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups have taken hold and provide support for all employees; diversity training is an expectation; and the Chief Diversity Officer is acknowledged as a critical role in the corporate organization. By diversifying and expanding markets, corporations have also engaged in community building by sponsoring charity drives, scholarships and programs, to both partner with and strengthen communities of color and women.

However, in spite of how far we’ve come, Corporate America continues to have challenges. Research shows that equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) must start at the top within the executive suite and among corporate boards. According to the Calvert Investments March 2013 report, women and people of color are not being promoted to the executive suite or appointed to boards at an equitable rate, even though modest progress has been made with respect to other diversity practices. Executive suites and corporate boards are expected to model diversity in ways that conveys authenticity and the true message of inclusion. Surely there are women and people of color who have the credentials to serve on boards or be contributing members of an executive team. The lack of representation at this level signals that much more work needs to be done.

In Toronto, Ontario the diversification of boards is an important priority for The Maytree Foundation. While the focus of Maytree’s work is on boards that serve public organizations in Greater Toronto Area, their program to diversify boards can be instructive for corporate America. Key, successful elements include devising an action plan, setting measureable goals, recruiting for diversity, and accommodating for diversity. Overall, this approach reinforces that diversity on boards and within executive suites does not come about automatically but requires intentionality.

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King articulated the Dream. We must not rest on our laurels, but continue to advocate for greater equality in corporate America.




Dr. Denise O’Neil Green is the Assistant Vice President/Vice Provost of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (AVP/VP - EDI) at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario. She began her appointment in September of 2012 and her mandate is to provide leadership, advocacy, and coordination needed to address equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout the institution. She has over 20 years of experience as a researcher, instructor, and practitioner in education, and is the Executive Editor of The Institutional Diversity Blog.

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