What if there were a way African Americans in the corporate space could get the expertise, mentoring and sponsorship needed to make the step up from mid-management to leadership roles, and the seats at the C-suite table where plans are made and implemented?
That was the idea Highmark Health Senior VP of Community Affairs Evan Frazier had rolling around in his head a few years back. He refined it, put it in a White Paper and pitched it to the dean of the Tepper School of Business at his alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University.
“Typically when alumni call, they want something, but Evan wanted to give us something. We’re fortunate he came to us first,” said Dean Robert Dammon. “We know how important Diversity and Inclusion are to our institution, and this initiative will advance that throughout the region.”
Frazier’s idea, The Advanced Leadership Initiative, combines sponsorship and mentorship of African Americans by local corporate leaders with the speed-dating equivalent of an MBA, The Executive Leadership Academy, run by the Tepper School.
The seven- to eight-month advanced development program promises to provide the tools, exposure and training necessary to prepare African Americans to contribute to their organizations, and community, at the highest levels.
Joining Frazier and Dammon for the May 9 announcement were corporate, foundation, government and community partners from across the county, including Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, POISE Foundation Executive Director Mark Lewis, Vibrant Pittsburgh Executive Director Melanie Harrington, and TALI executive committee members Greg Spencer, president and CEO of Randall Industries; Marsha Jones, Executive VP and Chief Diversity Officer for PNC Financial; and Randy Dearth, president and CEO of Calgon Carbon.
“I am very fortunate to share this podium with these leaders,” Frazier said. “Not only can this initiative groom the next generation of corporate leaders, but it can address the reasons many Blacks in corporate space leave Pittsburgh—they don’t see a path forward to the top, they feel isolated from their peers. The TALI focus will make them more visible, and its executive coaching and sponsorship will enhance their opportunities exponentially through peer networking.”
The Executive Leadership Academy, Dammon said, is currently recruiting applicants and expects some of the sponsoring organizations to prompt some of their employees to enroll. It is a significant investment in the students’ futures, both in time and money. CMU will cover part of the tuition, but the first $10,000 will be paid by the applicants or their sponsors. The Academy will hold open enrollment until Oct. 1, then announce the inaugural class in January.
“If we can turn out 200 Black executives in ten years, we’ll be successful,” said Frazier. “And that’s just scratching the surface.”
Spencer, who said he was lucky to get executive mentoring and sponsorship from the folks at a little gas company in Washington, Pa. that turned into EQT—and him into a senior executive—agreed.
“There are more talented African Americans out there than you know. They just need exposure,” he said. “They may not have gone to business school. They may be in government or in nonprofits—but they are there.”
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