Open your eyes and wallet, corporate America, to hire more people of color

Ongoing protests about police brutality have forced important conversations about race and equality in the workplace.

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Richard Drew/AP

The top editor at Bon Appetit magazine resigned this week after a racially offensive photo of him circulated online and staff complained of discrimination.

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Excitement for my first day of work as a full-time staffer in the newspaper business didn’t last long.

It was supposed to be a big promotion from part-time status. An hour into my first full-time shift as an editing assistant (not at this newspaper) in 1996, an associate editor came over and told me my salary would be $5,000 less annually than what I had agreed to.

Pay was assigned on grade levels, the editor said. The company wouldn’t give me a big jump from my comparatively low hourly salary as a part-timer. Never mind that for months I had been fulfilling the duties of the new job and had done them well.

The message was clear: Take it or leave it.

What choice did I have? I had declined an overture from a competing newspaper after I was offered my big promotion.

In the years that followed, I saw men get substantial pay raises. Twice, editors commented on the children those men were raising or planned to have, as if that alone justified pay increases. At that time, the men were almost all white, by the way. Diversity wasn’t a strong suit.

I bring this up because we’re on the verge of a reckoning in corporate America. Ongoing protests about police brutality have brought about important conversations about race and equality in the workplace.

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Corporate bosses should look hard at every job in their companies — from janitor positions to top management — and assess hiring practices and treatment of employees.

Ariel Investments co-CEO Mellody Hobson, who is African American, has some good ideas on how to make companies more diverse.

“So, let’s just make it about cold, hard cash,” she told Chief Investment Officer magazine. “I am not going to give you your whole bonus if your team is not diverse. You could be best in class in everything else, but if your team is not diverse, you’re hurting our company or our organization and we can’t be great.”

People of color and women aren’t even close to getting to their share of a pie that is big enough for all. Jobs in the corporate ranks still are hard to come by. Getting equal pay to white men is just as tough. Women of color are most adversely affected, research shows.

At too many companies, a sexist or racist culture exists.

This week, Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport left the magazine after a photo of him in blackface resurfaced and another of him and his wife dressed stereotypically as Puerto Ricans for Halloween years ago circulated on social media.

Current and former magazine staffers started talking publicly about racial discrimination they encountered. Assistant Food Editor Sohla El-Waylly said on Instagram that she wasn’t paid for popular videos the magazine distributed on YouTube, but her white colleagues were.

Bon Appétit is owned by Condé Nast. The company is run in part by legendary fashion influencer Anna Wintour. She is editor in chief of Vogue and artistic director and global content adviser of Condé Nast.

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Wintour and Vogue have a terrible track record for diversity, and Wintour apologized to employees for it in an email Wednesday. I am eager to see how hard she’ll work at eliminating structural racism at Condé Nast.

The Associated Press recently looked at the hiring practices of some prominent, popular U.S. companies that talk of standing with African Americans at this pivotal moment but fall way short in hiring them.

Less than 3% of Microsoft’s executives, directors and managers are black, the AP reported. Across all of its brands, including retail and warehouse workers, that number went up a smidgeon to 4.4%.

Over at Amazon, Jeff Bezos comes off like a supporter of liberal causes. To his credit, more than 60% of his warehouse and delivery workers in most cities are people of color, an AP analysis found. But working conditions at some of his warehouses are subpar or dangerous. What’s he going to do about it? My guess: As little as possible.

The newspaper industry made strides in minority hiring in the 1990s and early 2000s — barely. I listened sometimes to newsroom staff and editors talk about certain positions being designated unofficially as “minority hires.”

Editors, most of them terrific people, then would go back to hiring people they were comfortable with — people that looked like them. They couldn’t see, or refused to see, that it stacked the deck. For a woman or person of color, timing was everything.

Still, there was some progress. It was largely wiped out by the Great Recession.

Here we are, in another recession. Across America, the recovery has to look different this time.

Marlen Garcia is a member of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.

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