Presented by Symba, #OpenUpTheWorkforce interviews feature executives advancing inclusion, diversity, and equity for the future of work. In these short audio-only episodes, we talk with the top about what it takes to develop and implement inclusive processes.
In this episode of #OpenUpTheWorkforce, Forest T. Harper, Jr., President & CEO of INROADS, talks about the need for disruptive and innovative solutions in hiring and staffing, and a new breed of CEOs leading the way. Listen here.
“There’s always something you can do about being the only.”
The conversation opens with Forest’s humble beginnings, growing up in a single-parent home in public housing as a migrant worker family picking fruits and vegetables in south Florida. From there he accelerated – going to university, joining the military, becoming a leader in corporate America, and now the President and CEO of INROADS. But it wasn’t an easy road. Forest expands, “I had 8 different promotions where I was the first and only African American to be an executive in corporate America at Pfizer. And that was a lot! But I remembered something, what a mentor told me. There’s nothing [you can do] about being the first, but there’s always something you can do about being the only.” He shares that his childhood taught him the keys to success in his corporate career: lead by example and respect others and what they bring to the table.
What limits talent from accessing the workforce?
Forest calls out that systemic bias and systemic racism are continuing problems that exist, and people must reckon with these issues. He highlights that pedigree biases often occur, like favoring candidates from certain colleges and universities. And he also notes the need to knock down barriers, like gendered jobs. Forest was the first to introduce “Bridging Back To Work,” asking new moms when they want to come back to work. Forest inspires, “We have to be disruptive and true to what we believe is right, and when we see it, call it out, and when we see it, bring constructive solutions [so] that we’ll never see these [systemic] biases and systemic racism…no matter who it affects at any one point in time.”
Encourage entrepreneurship to drive innovation and create the solutions of tomorrow.
There were times when corporations, institutions, and governments brought the best people on board that they thought would figure out a problem or create the most innovation, within their walls. After time, they noticed there wasn’t much discovery happening. Forest ponders, imagine if the great discoverers and innovators in human history were not allowed to be entrepreneurs? Entrepreneurs are the builders of what we see today. The United States is built off of small businesses, run by entrepreneurs. They’re the engine of our economy. Forest believes we need to encourage young individuals to become entrepreneurs to continue providing solutions for the future. He and his team are clearly driving that mission forward, as 38% of INROADS participants are entrepreneurs!
There’s a new breed of CEOs in corporate America.
A few years prior to the unfortunate and pivotal death of George Floyd, Tim Ryan at PwC led a collaboration of over 300 CEOs to sign the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion agreement. This was a business commitment by CEOs to focus on unconscious bias and create environments where diversity is seen as a strength. As Forest says, “They put their P&Ls (profit and losses) down and picked up their attitudes about what they wanted to do about inclusion in the workplace.” More recently, these companies have made 3-5 year commitments financially and socially to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. According to McKinsey, companies worldwide have committed over $7 billion in DEI&B-related efforts since the unjust murder of George Floyd, and are projected to spend more than $15.4 billion by 2026.
What do leaders need to do to #OpenUpTheWorkforce?
- Disrupt the norms in how you bring diversity, equity, and inclusion into your hiring and staffing. This will open you up to new ideas.
- Work with innovators and assemble your employees to help build the next brightest idea as to how you diversify your workforce.
- Ignore the criticism, be vocal, and make sure that your actions match your commitment. For example, years ago JP Morgan made a commitment to hiring 4,000 Black people, and they came through on that commitment with their Advancing Black Pathways program. “You’ve got to be so bold as to be disruptive positively, but take the action firmly.” - Forest T. Harper, Jr.
- Forest says, “Don’t be afraid to hire and invest that talent that’s in development. If we didn’t have a pipeline, where would we be?” He adds that those pipelines need to be full of diverse talent that can help us tackle challenges from a variety of perspectives.
About Forest T. Harper, Jr.
Forest is currently the President and CEO of INROADS, Inc., the world’s leading nonprofit organization for diverse talent solutions in corporate America. Among the many services provided by INROADS is the provision of salaried corporate and government internships and corporate and community leadership development for talented and underrepresented leaders. INROADS’ corporate network is global. With partnerships with 250 Fortune 500 companies, Forest’s leadership has strengthened INROADS’ financial position by increasing its partnership network by 40% and expanding its alumni base to more than 30,000 members worldwide. INROADS’ partnering organizations include some of the most influential companies in the world. And, the INROADS National Board is comprised of several members from Fortune 100 companies.
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