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May 4, 2016

How businesses can improve opportunities for boys and young men of color

May 4, 2016

The My Brother’s Keeper White House Initiative and the MBK Alliance call for public and private efforts to help boys and young men of color achieve milestones at the same rate as others in the United States. This blog series discusses strategies that could be effective in meeting those goals.  

President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative two years ago to improve opportunities for boys and young men of color. The private sector has helped the initiative achieve its goals, but corporations and businesses can do more to help these young men reach their full potential.

The initiative aims to ensure six milestones for boys and young men of color: 1) enter school ready to learn, 2) read at grade level by third grade, 3) graduate from high school ready for college and career, 4) complete postsecondary education or training, 5) successfully enter the workforce, and 6) avoid violence and—for those who are incarcerated—be given a second chance.

To support these efforts, the MBK Alliance was formed last year to be the private arm of the initiative. The alliance provides an organized focus for the initiative outside of government and raises private dollars to fund technical assistance and innovative activities for local My Brother’s Keeper initiatives. The founding board of directors has already committed $80 million in cash and noncash contributions to support the organization’s mission.

Although it got off to a slow start as it searched for a permanent CEO, the alliance has served as a vehicle for sharing information by hosting webinars on local government actions and issues around My Brother’s Keeper and highlighting corporate efforts related to the initiative, such as The Fellowship Initiative of JPMorgan Chase and the Prudential–Sprint effort to provide wireless connectivity in Newark. These and other private efforts are described in the recently released My Brother’s Keeper 2016 report.  

But the most important way corporations can help boys and young men of color is to provide jobs for them (and their fathers, mothers, and other family members). Eighty-five percent of all civilian jobs are in the private sector. Although many new jobs are generated in small businesses, the opportunities for upward mobility lie disproportionately in larger companies. 

To reduce barriers to success for boys and young men of color, businesses could follow the MBK Alliance’s playbook for corporations. (Unfortunately, the playbook is not as prominently displayed on the alliance’s website as announcements about short-term opportunities through internships and fellowships.) The playbook includes strategies for businesses to generate more long-term employment for people of color, especially young men, by expanding the pool of eligible candidates through greater outreach, careful review of job screening criteria, and career development for existing employees. 

One strategy that the playbook emphasizes is “banning the box” on job applications that asks whether applicants have been arrested or convicted of a crime. Banning the box is important for young men of color, who are more likely to have encounters with the criminal justice system. But eliminating the question won’t help much if recruiters and interviewers exhibit unconscious bias against candidates of color by assuming they are likely to have some criminal involvement just because of their ethnicity.

Another way employers can promote the initiative’s goals is to support employees who have parental responsibilities. While not every employer can provide day care or child care subsidies, most can provide some workplace flexibility so that workers can participate in their children’s school activities and teacher consultations.

Parents of color are more likely to be in the types of jobs that don’t have flexible hours. Workplace schedules for these nonexecutive jobs have been more for the benefit of the company than the employee, with on-call hours and irregular schedules making it difficult for parents to arrange child care or ensure that children are safe during nonschool hours. Giving parents time to help with their children’s development is a step toward fulfilling the initiative’s goals around early learning and academic achievement.

Over the next week, Urban Wire will highlight more policies and strategies that different sectors and individuals can use to meet the goals of My Brother’s Keeper.

The audience watches President Obama speak at the launch of the My Brother's Keeper Alliance at Lehman College in The Bronx, NY. May 4, 2015. Photo by Christopher Dilts, courtesy of My Brother's Keeper Alliance

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