Though many of the speakers at the sixth annual Corporate Equity and Inclusion Roundtable conference at Duquesne University noted a somber atmosphere in the wake of the Antwon Rose II shooting, presenters nonetheless gave multiple examples of efforts being made to make solid progress over the last year in advancing efforts to place more African Americans in executive-level positions throughout the region.
These initiatives are being implemented across a number of business sectors including law, education, skilled trades, healthcare, and the burgeoning petrochemical industry.
In one of the more passionate presentations, Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Economic Development, said the region’s corporate community—including her organization—had failed in terms of making sure Blacks were part of the region’s success.
“Yeah, I’m going to get flack for this because it’s not inclusive enough, but we’re doubling down on African American households—this is where we have to focus,” she said. “We have failed, and this is a barrier to employers seeking workers and those looking to locate here.”
Pashman, during her comments made during the June 25 conference, said even though some data tends to be sanitized by “rooms full of lawyers,” the conference would be collecting, tracking and publishing corporate numbers on Black contracting, hiring, and supply chain participation.
Pashman also hailed the state general assembly’s passing, and Gov. Tom Wolf’s signing of “clean slate” legislation that would seal records for individuals convicted of minor, non-violent offenses, which has been an employment barrier—particularly for young African Americans.
“We can’t afford to lose another Antwon,” she said. “We need them all.”
CEIR founder Tim Stevens said it was sad to lose Candi Castleberry Singleton, when she left last year for Silicon Valley to take the position as vice president of Intersectionality, Culture and Diversity for Twitter. But he didn’t lose her for long. He thanked her for making the trip from California to Pittsburgh to deliver the conference’s keynote address.
“But I didn’t come from California, I came from Dubai, and after this I’m on a plane for Korea,” she said. “My staff was, like, ‘Do you really have to stop in Pittsburgh?’ I said, absolutely.”
Castleberry Singleton, who helped Stevens launch CEIR when she was the diversity director at UPMC, gave a presentation on the #GrowTogether initiative she has launched at Twitter, highlighting some of its inclusive aspects—like attention to language.
“If I say I’m a Black woman who works in diversity, that’s a lot of people in this room. But if I say I’m a programmer—yeah, you didn’t know that,” she said. “That’s a whole different way to connect—that’s what I mean by intersectionality. At Twitter we wear badges with our intersections because a lot of our programmers are introverts.”
Castleberry Singleton said the Ryan Shazier Steelers gear she was wearing—and the matching shoes—is part of her badge, and it allowed her to meet a young man in the cafeteria, who’d gone to school at Pitt. She also noted something that isn’t obvious to those in the diversity field—especially those focused on Black inclusion here in Pittsburgh. You have to go big.
“I’ll never forget Wendell Freeland, God bless him, saying to me, ‘What are you doing for the Black community?’ I told him and Esther Bush—and she looked at me like I was cockeyed. I said I was about inclusion for everybody,” she said.
“The reason is if I say I’m about helping Black people, I get this much—and it never gets any bigger. But if I’m for Blacks, Asian, Latinos, LGBQT, that’s a lot bigger pot—and I can allocate from that.”
But, as she always says, the key to diversity is making new friends.
“Each of you knows somebody who should be in this room, but isn’t,” she said. “You are not hearing anything you haven’t heard before. I just hope you are hearing something that will make you do something you haven’t done before.”
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