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Diversity Depression

Pittsburgh’s New Leadership Looks a Lot Like the Same Leadership

It is no secret that the Pittsburgh region struggles with diversity. It has been the talk of the town for over the last decade. What is loud and clear - and, quite depressing - is just how little action has followed, and that evidence of improvements remain so elusive. The January 3-9, 2020 edition of the Pittsburgh Business Times (the article requires a subscription) profiled about 40 new Pittsburgh CEOs for 2019. It is striking upon review that the new leadership looks a lot like the old leadership, overwhelmingly White and male. There is no way to tell if these profiles reflect a representative sample of the region’s new CEOs or just the ones that the Pittsburgh Business Times knew about and was able to contact, but it isn’t good either way. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a White male and the leadership of my firm is two men and one woman, all White.)

Ralph Bangs, Associate Director of the Center on Race and Social Problems at the University of Pittsburgh, has been researching and publishing on the racial disparities in the region since the 1990s. Pittsburgh’s shame, a 2007 Op-Ed by Dr. Bangs and Dr. Larry Davis, former dean of the School of Social Work and founder of the Center on Race and Social Problems, captured the issue succinctly and provided a blunt call for action. In 2015, Vibrant Pittsburgh and PittsburghTODAY released a report that documented the gaps in minority participation in the workforce. In 2016, a coalition of nonprofits released a survey on diversity that documents the gaps in perceptions about diversity in the region. According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s 2018 article on diversity: “In the Pittsburgh region, women account for 24% of seats at public companies that are based here or have major operations in the area, up from 21% in 2018.” The Pittsburgh Business Times also recognized this issue in its review of the demographics of public company boards. In 2019, the city of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission issued a damning report, Pittsburgh’s Inequality Across Gender and Race.

Clearly disparities in the region are a pervasive and longstanding problem, but let’s take a closer look at diversity specifically in professional leadership positions.

There is no comprehensive data on the gender, race, and ethnicity of CEOs or other management executives in Pittsburgh. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2018) reported 1,350 CEOs employed in the Pittsburgh region - which reflects the number of CEO positions located in the seven-county metro area including and surrounding Pittsburgh. The US Census Bureau also provides data on residents by high-level occupation groups. According to the most recent estimates, there are 112,550 residents of the region working in management occupations, which includes CEOs and as well as various other administrative and managerial occupations. Because these data come from the American Community Survey, we can also look across race/ethnicity and gender. The graphic below captures the rate at which people in the labor force hold management positions, cut by gender and by the four largest racial and ethnic groups in the region.

The numbers are depressing.

Compared to White, non-Hispanic males, White, non-Hispanic females are only 71 percent as likely to be in a management position. Asian females are 61 percent as likely. Hispanic or Latino men are 61 percent as likely, well below Hispanic or Latina females. Black men are only 55 percent as likely and Black females fare only slightly better.

So what’s the point in all of this?

Recent leadership changes gave us an opportunity as a region to become more equitable in our leadership, and it is pretty clear that we missed the opportunity to reduce the leadership disparity in a meaningful way.

There are more than 10,000 people of color who hold management positions in the region, and nearly 46 percent of those managers are women. In its profiles of these new CEOs, the Pittsburgh Business Times missed an opportunity to showcase more of that diversity, which could have in turn inspired younger, diverse leaders.

It is important to have more diverse leadership in management roles in all sectors of the economy, including private businesses, nonprofit organizations, and institutions. Several new leaders outside of business were noticeably absent from the profiles.

Is there any good news?

Pittsburgh has recently created The Advanced Leadership Initiative program, led by Evan Fraizer (Highmark Health) in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, to close the achievement gap for African American C-Suite executives. They note that African Americans in Pittsburgh are dramatically underrepresented in Executive Leadership. The program organized its first cohort of 23 managers in 2019.

The African Americans Director Forum formed in 2017 and led by David Motley seeks to increase representation on City boards. They are aiming to fill about 30 Pittsburgh board seats with African American representation over the next five years.

All in Pittsburgh represents a broad coalition of leaders from the public, nonprofit, community, and private sector. A group of core partners -Neighborhood Allies, UrbanKind Institute, Mongalo-Winston Consulting, and PolicyLink - are working through a roadmap for urban growth and development that is innovative, inclusive, and sustainable.

I recognize that I am not disadvantaged by my gender or my race, but that is why I feel the need to engage in this conversation. I suspect that many of the people hiring for new leadership positions in the area look a lot like me, and while I don’t know how to fix this problem, I know that people like me have the responsibility to do better. It won’t be easy. We need broad and diverse engagement, for it is an issue that affects all of us. Addressing the disparities in leadership can send a powerful signal that our region is a place of opportunity for all.


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