Urban League in Two Cities Takes on Lack of Leadership Diversity

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June 6, 2011; Source: Wisconsin State Journal | While Madison, Wisconsin may seem like a bastion of liberal and progressive politics, the president of the Urban League says the city does not have much diversity among its CEOs. In fact, he says, the ten African American CEOs in the city are all associated with nonprofit organization, and no business in the city with more than 10 employees is owned by an African American. This is, he says, no way to build a diverse middle class.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia the Urban League is taking on the lack of diversity among board members of the area’s biggest companies by convening local CEOs to talk about the problem. A recent study they conducted showed that of the 678 members of the 78 boards of the region’s largest corporations, only 30 were African American. African Americans make up 42 percent of the city’s population and 20 percent of the region’s.

The Philadelphia Urban League President, Patricia Counter, says taking on the issue of race in Philadelphia is no walk in the park. Coulter said that the impetus for the board initiative was a panel discussion reported on in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2003. Apparently, now Mayor Michael Nutter said about any discussion of race in Philly, "It's generally going to be pretty short, it's going to be very delicate, and you're just going to move on to something else quickly.”

We congratulate the Urban League for not moving on and respectfully remind our colleagues in the sector that our leadership, staffing and board diversity issues are equally as acute (PDF).—Ruth McCambridge