Jun 24, 2021 - 12:30pm

Business Leaders Put Equality of Opportunity Solutions Into Action


Associate Manager, Communications and Strategy

Business leaders, government leaders, small business owners, economists, and experts came together this week for the U.S. Chamber’s Second Annual Equality of Opportunity Summit to discuss challenges, share successes, and chart paths forward to ensure equality of opportunity for all.

Many mentioned progress made over the past year on equitable education initiatives, diversity and corporate leadership, and access to capital for black owned businesses—but agreed that more action is needed.

“All of our people, no matter their race or background, must have equal opportunity to go as far and as high as their talent and hard work will take, and the work of the EOI and all of its partners is crucial to making that happen,” said U.S. Chamber President and CEO Suzanne Clark in her opening remarks.

Small Business Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman joined a conversation on entrepreneurship with the U.S. Chamber’s Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley, and said one goal of the SBA is to drive more early-stage equity investments into businesses owned by diverse owners, as well as owners in low-income rural areas, and in manufacturing and infrastructure.

“Building that trust and making those connections, and understanding where businesses are is so key," Guzman said. “Small businesses are key drivers of our nation's economy, which means that if we're going to bring back our economy, we have to bring back all of our small businesses equitably.”

The conversations come one year after the U.S. Chamber established the Equality of Opportunity Initiative (EOI) to advance private sector and policy solutions at the federal, state, and local level to help close race-based opportunity gaps in education, employment, entrepreneurship, criminal justice, health, and wealth. 

Over the past year, the Chamber has partnered with more than 500 chambers, associations, and businesses; endorsed a dozen legislative bills, and hosted over 100 events to address systemic inequalities in our society.

By the Numbers

The US Chamber continues to compile research to show the magnitude of opportunity gaps in key areas and inform solutions. For example,

  • Black Americans make up roughly 12% of the workforce, but only 7.6% of the highest earners and 17% of the lowest earners.
  • Black solo entrepreneurs are half as likely to get financing as white owners.
  • In 2020, weekly wages for Black and Hispanic workers lagged by more than $200 compared to white and Asian Americans.

Visit the new EOI Data Center for more statistics and a closer look at how organizations feel their industry is doing in creating equality of opportunity.   

Moving From Conversations to Real Action

Read on for more key takeaways, solutions, and actions presented during the summit. You can watch the entire event and key highlights on Chamber OnDemand.

Discover Financial Services is bringing opportunity directly into an underserved community in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood by building a call center in a vacant store building, hiring more than 150 people to get the center up and running, and eventually scaling to more than 1,000 employees over the next four years.

“Large companies are uniquely able to bring jobs at scale directly into communities, and there's a real benefit to having the jobs in the community. There's a halo effect helping other small businesses,” said Roger C. Hochschild, Director, Chief Executive Officer, and President, Discover Financial Services.

Jason Wright, President, Washington Football Team, expressed his vision for the team as the first Black and youngest president in the National Football League.

“My general belief is that social impact is most sustainable and viable when it's built into our business models and it's tied to the way that we do our day-to-day business,” Wright said.  “We have an opportunity to write a playbook that other sports media and entertainment franchises can follow in the future. With integrity, great principles, and a team of diversity that is built on character, we can change things that extend well beyond us.”

The United States would gain $8 trillion in GDP by closing the racial equity gap, according to a 2018 report by the WK Kellogg Foundation. WK Kellogg Foundation’s Vice President and Chief Investment Officer Carlos Rangel said “we’re all in this together,” and closing the opportunity gap leads to higher economic activity that benefits all of us.

Tennessee is investing pandemic relief funding into key strategic education programs in elementary literacy, additional tutoring support, and funding innovative high school ideas—for example, students taking classes directly on industry sites and then being able to move directly into workforce, creating strong pipelines and equality of opportunity.

IBM founded a public-private partnership model to bring together a public high school partner, a community college partner, and one or more industry partners in close proximity to provide greater opportunity for underserved youth in communities.

Economists gave examples of how businesses can help build wealth in minority communities like taking a close look at pay disparities across the company, recruiting from more diverse applicant pools, and making benefits more widely and equitably available to all workers. 

“Many business practices are on the surface race neutral, but in practice they're anything but,” said Dr. Ana Hernández Kent, Senior Researcher, Institute for Economic Equity, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Jimmy Etheredge, Chief Executive Officer, Accenture North America, explained the company's apprenticeship program, where Accenture is paying people a livable wage while training them for a job that's waiting on them at the company. With 60% diverse participants, the program has increased Accenture’s pipeline of diverse talent.

But, “it’s not just about the numbers, it's about how it feels for those employees to work in the organization,” Etheredge said.

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About the Author

About the Author

Lindsay Cates
Associate Manager, Communications and Strategy
Lindsay is a native of the Philadelphia suburbs and graduated from Washington and Lee University. She previously worked as a writer and editor at U.S. News and World Report.