'How do we solve this problem?' Equity expert talks business diversity at Duke

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Wednesday night's discussion at Duke University was about leveling up leadership -- advancing a new sense of racial equity at American businesses. And the Triangle, like most places in the country, has a lot of work to do on that front.

"We really started with how do we solve this problem? And we knew it would take a long time," said John Rice, the featured speaker at the Sanford School of Public Policy lecture.

What Rice is solving for: How to make American businesses look more like America -- from entry-level positions to the executive suite.

"Everyone has their biases. But all we're looking for is people to do things that promote equality and reduce inequities," Rice told the crowd.

Rice's discussion at Duke centered on how to fight racial and economic disparities in business. And the disparities are stark. A study from the Brookings Institution, last month, showed no metro area in the country where the share of Black-owned firms matched up with the area's Black population.

In Raleigh, the study found just 4% of businesses with employees are Black-owned. A gap that only widens an already gigantic wealth gap between Black and White families.

Some cities are doing better than others. Brookings listed the Fayetteville metro as third in the country for the highest representation of Black employer businesses.

"There are some hidden gems here in Fayetteville," said Tonya McNeill, the owner of Fayetteville's NZone Event Center. "And I am very proud to find out we are a part of the businesses that have strived here in Fayetteville, especially during the pandemic."

Back at Duke, the nationally-known founder of the nonprofit Management Leadership for Tomorrow was drawing a map of what a more equitable business world looks like and how to get there.

He detailed his focus on coaching, mentoring, and training future executives -- people of color. And helping companies advance diversity through racially-equitable hiring and retention.

"There's some holes in that system that need to be addressed to get people where they are economically mobile and put them in the game," Rice said.

Rice said he is putting a lot of his current efforts into what he calls "the last mile." He described it as not simply getting a young talented person of color into college -- but helping position them to succeed in the right career.
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