In July, the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines’ DonorConnect Working for Equity panel discussion highlighted racial employment gaps that exist in Central Iowa and how we can lead changes that create equitable opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) to be a part of our workforce.
The panelists were:
- Marvin DeJear of the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families
- Soneeta Mangra-Dutcher of Central Iowa Works
- Tony Wilson of Project Iowa.
Here are their insights, with ideas that can be applied to organizations working on increasing diversity in the workplace:
1. Focus on data that looks at disparities.
Marvin noted that data, such as unemployment rates and median household income, can go up or down, but what has remained consistent over time are the disparities in the data. Every community of color has an unemployment rate that is at least 2x higher than the average, he said.
The pandemic also is hitting communities of color the hardest when they had just begun to recover from the 2008 recession. For example, while about 16.5% of the entire workforce is in the service industry, 24% of African Americans and 23% of Iowa’s Latinx population is in this industry (Iowa Data Center). Many were already working in lower-wage jobs and are now being hit with layoffs.
“It’s a matter of how do we really start to address the disparities,” Marvin said. “We have to figure out how do we have some long-term sustainable change. … It took decades to get here and it is going to take years to turn it around.”
2. Address stress to improve access to opportunities.
Extreme stress can cause our bodies to enter a fight, flight, or freeze response that inhibits our executive functioning. Operating in this state of survival, we might struggle to make decisions or to take advantage of opportunities that are available.
Tony and Marvin noted that a lot of people they work with could be on a path to earning a degree or completing a training program, but then one small thing happens, like their car breaks down and they miss a test, and then they struggle to finish the class as they have to find transportation, make up work, and continue to provide for their families. A lack of resources and support adds to chronic stress.
Project Iowa spends time addressing this stress and working through past trauma so individuals can build the foundation they need to start to see opportunities and plan for their future.
3. Help people find pathways into higher positions.
Soneeta noted that only 4.3% of registered nurses in Iowa are people of color (Iowa Board of Nursing, 2019). Of those entering the Central Iowa HealthWorks program to work toward a health care career, about 70% are people of color, but many are working toward certified nursing assistant (CNA) roles or other entry-level positions and staying there.
“We need to look at why they stay there and what can we do to help them move out,” Soneeta said. “Do the programs exist? Yes, but do they feel the programs are for them and do they feel like they have an opportunity to be a part of those programs?”
Staying in entry-level roles adds up to a significant loss in earning potential over time, Soneeta said, which impacts the individual’s spending back into the community as well.
4. Target opportunities and resources to communities of color.
The saying “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” doesn’t work when the decks have been stacked against you, says Marvin. Communities of color have been shut out of opportunities and are not connected to the networks that let them know of job and training opportunities. When the small business relief dollars went out in response to COVID-19, for example, many minority small businesses did not receive those dollars, because some did not know of the deadline and also because African Americans are more likely to have loan applications rejected by banks. As a community, we need to become more intentional about investing in communities of color and building stronger networks that include populations that have historically been marginalized.
5. Take steps to learn and become involved.
The Community Foundation offered several steps for continuing to learn and take action. Steps include reading the One Economy report and other articles and books on racial justice, investing in organizations that are led by and served by people of color, and engaging in policy discussions.