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  • Writer's pictureAlex Nelson

Startup seeks to hire, train, and promote 1 million Black Americans

A new startup led by a diverse team of business veterans is making waves with a bold economic goal aimed at hiring and promoting one million Black Americans over the next 10 years. So far, 37 major corporations have pledged their support toward the effort.

The company, OneTen, was conceived as a direct response to the systemic social and economic inequities that disproportionately impact Black Americans. More specifically, the startup will be working to “connect employers with talent partners, leading non-profits, and other skill-credentialing organizations who support development of diverse talent.”

The emphasis on creating opportunities for African-Americans in the workplace is no coincidence. In fact, many of the OneTen initiative’s founding executives are of African-American heritage. The significance and importance of this historic effort to employ, promote, and upskill such a large portion of the American population is difficult to deny. In fact, the need for projects like OneTen is highlighted against the backdrop of numbers and statistics that tell the grim story of Black economic immobility and instability in the United States.

Despite Black poverty rates reaching historic lows recently, U.S. Census Bureau numbers indicate that Black Americans suffer from poverty at more than twice the rate of white citizens. In a 2019 report from the Federal Reserve, statistics showed that white Americans ranked highest in terms of median household wealth among all racial groups, with $188,200; Black Americans, conversely, held the lowest median household wealth of all racial groups, with $24,100.

These gaps in wealth are related to persistent educational and experiential gaps in opportunity for Black Americans. The Talent Center for Innovation, now known as Coqual, recently conducted an in-depth study examining the professional experiences of Black people in corporate settings. The report, entitled, “Being Black In Corporate America,” paints a shameful portrait of the systemic discrimination faced by Black people in the workplace. One of the key findings of the report described Black professionals as being “more likely than White professionals to be ambitious, yet one in five [Black professionals] feel that someone of their race/ethnicity would never achieve a top job at their companies.”

With statistics and data like those in mind, the value of OneTen’s collective corporate willpower is clear. The team plans to leverage that power to create meaningful change for Black professionals, especially those who do not possess a 4-year college degree.

During an interview last week with CBS’s Gayle King, Ken Frazier, OneTen co-chair and current CEO and Chairman of Merck, referenced the startup’s vision to evolve away from the traditional approach of evaluating talent on the basis of certification.

“Many times, companies require four-year degrees for the kinds of jobs that really do not require a four-year degree,” said Frazier. “And so what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to urge companies to take a skills first approach rather than a credentials approach, which will eliminate some of the systemic barriers that African Americans have faced.”

Frazier has been recognized as a champion of racial equality for many years. Prior to becoming Merck’s CEO, Frazier volunteered as an attorney at the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). He successfully led a team of lawyers to free James “Bo” Cochran, a wrongfully convicted Black man, from Alabama’s death row. Frazier also made headlines in the aftermath of 2017’s violent white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia when he stepped down from President Trump’s American Manufacturing Council in protest of the president’s refusal to unequivocally and publicly denounce racially-charged violence.

The Merck executive is not the only member of the OneTen team with a strong track record of supporting social justice and workplace equality. He is joined by founders Ken Chenault, Chairman and Managing Director of General Catalyst and former Chairman and CEO of American Express; Charles Phillips, Managing Partner of Recognize and Chairman of the Black Economic Alliance; Ginni Rometty, Executive Chairman and former CEO of IBM; and Kevin Sharer, former Chairman and CEO of Amgen and former faculty member at Harvard Business School. Frazier and Rometty serve as co-chairs of the organization.

Other corporate members of the OneTen initiative include: Accenture, ADP, Allstate, American Express, Amgen, Aon, AT&T, Bain & Company, Bank of America, Cargill, Caterpillar, Cisco, Cleveland Clinic, Comcast, Deloitte, Delta Air Lines, Eli Lilly, General Motors, HP Inc., Humana, IBM, Illinois Tool Works, Intermountain Healthcare, Johnson & Johnson, Lowe's, Medtronic, Merck, Nike, Nordstrom, PepsiCo, Roper Technologies, Stryker, Target, Trane Technologies, Verizon, Walmart and Whirlpool Corporation.

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