Obama: Diversity Initiatives Should Get Measurable Results

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks during a "My Brother's Keeper" summit in South Court Auditorium at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Manuel Balce Ceneta — AP

Blair Taylor, the CEO of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, has a message for companies: Ignoring social problems like the persistent opportunity gap for boys and young men of color will hurt your bottom line.

My Brother’s Keeper Alliance is the independent, nonprofit arm of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, aimed at closing the opportunity gap for boys and young men of color. Taylor formerly served as Starbucks chief community officer. Even once Obama is out of office, he says, the group will continue its work—with a particular focus toward the corporate world.

“We’re bringing [companies] in by speaking a language that they speak, which is P&L, which is ROI, which is hiring great talent,” Taylor says.

For example, companies that hire employees from MBKA-sponsored job fairs often call him to ask for more candidates. This, Taylor says, is a chance to explain why the available talent pool can seem thin.

“That’s our opportunity to tell them to help us with high school graduation rates or help us with criminal justice reform,” he said. “If we steer kids away from that, they’ll stay in the job candidate pool. If we have those conversations too early, businesses don’t want to get involved.”

Taylor talked to Fortune backstage at Wednesday’s My Brother’s Keeper National Summit. He was among more than 250 executives, community organizers, elected officials, and young men who gathered in the White House’s South Court Auditorium yesterday for the last event of its kind at the Obama White House.

The president launched the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative almost three years ago, in February 2014, aiming to boost opportunities for boys and young men of color. Since then, 250 communities in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, D.C. and 19 tribal nations have signed on.

The group’s focus is wide, and aims to make a difference early. Boys of color are more likely to fall behind in reading proficiency by 4th grade, face suspension or expulsion in high school, be involved in the criminal justice system, and experience high rates of unemployment as adults.

In the White House’s South Court Auditorium, the crowd gathered in rapt attention to watch the nation’s first black president hold one of his final celebrations for his administrations’ work done on behalf of young people of color. Obama wasn’t scheduled to appear at the summit until four and a half hours after it started, but people stood packed in the aisles for its entire six-hour run time.

When he did take the stage, Obama pledged to continue working with My Brother’s Keeper after he leaves office in January, calling it his life’s work. But he was careful to note that being passionate about something isn’t an excuse to ignore objective measures of success.

“We have to be rigorous in measuring what works. We can’t hang onto programs just because they’ve been around a long time,” he said yesterday. “We can’t be protective of programs that haven’t produced results for young people, even if they’ve produced jobs for some folks running them.”

The takeaways for businesses are clear: Use data to analyze corporate diversity and inclusion efforts. Ditch what doesn’t work. Reallocate that money to new, proven programs. And maintain momentum by continuing to collect and share data. Initiatives that work will create a new pool of potential employees, and help kids at the same time.

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