Meet The Corporate Leaders With the Bold Plan To Hire 1 Million Black People

·10 min read

More than 18 months after its inception, OneTen–the initiative designed by Kenneth Frazier, retired CEO and current executive chairman of pharmaceutical giant Merck, former American Express Chairman and CEO Ken Chenault, and former Infor CEO and Chairman Charles Phillips–has been gaining momentum fulfilling pledges made by leaders of the nation’s largest companies to create 1 million family-sustaining, career-advancing jobs for Black non-degree holders over the next decade.

Maurice Jones, who has served in an array of high-impact positions, including as Deputy Secretary for HUD during the Obama administration, and head of Local Initiatives Support Corporation, was recruited last February to serve as the honcho for this mammoth effort–an act Frazier asserts “was the most important thing to happen in the first year.”

Maurice Jones speaks at the event (Courtesy of PR Noir)
Maurice Jones speaks at the event (Courtesy of PR Noir)

The move has proven fruitful: Thus far, OneTen has helped find employment for 41,000 people.

Frazier maintains that building this coalition of CEOs to urgently address the lack of employment opportunities and income inequality among African Americans was an outgrowth of the wave of corporate commitments announced in 2020 in response to worldwide protests against systemic racism inspired by the George Floyd tragedy. To achieve this end, Jones and his team brought together:

  • More than 70 corporate partners, including Merck, AT&T, Walmart, ADP, and JPMorgan Chase, among other major corporations, that have actively hired Black talent and committed to supplying thousands of much-needed jobs.

  • Over 100 talent developers like Van Jones’s Dream Corps, Goodwill Industries, General Assembly, IBM SkillsBuild, NPower, and other outfits to help job prospects hone skills.

  • And scores of community organizations to aid locals with work transition by providing essential services, including childcare, career coaching, technology, and transportation.

Last month, OneTen beefed up its online Career Marketplace to reinforce its ecosystem. The enhanced platform leverages “smart technology” to facilitate matching employers, talent developers, and candidates at scale and improve analytics capabilities. Moreover, the upgrade offers job seekers an enhanced talent developer referral system laden with resources and opportunities.

“The timing of our expansion of OneTen’s Career Marketplace with Juneteenth is not a coincidence. As we mark this momentous holiday, we do so while simultaneously acknowledging how much work still needs to be done to close the staggering and widening racial wealth gap in the United States,” Jones said at the time of the announcement. “We believe that catalyzing quality, family-sustaining employment opportunities at scale for Black talent will effectively address that gap and the great disparities that exist in the workforce.”

Jones also told BE: “The encouraging thing for me is this is a skills-first movement that can touch every industry and every job classification. That means we got a heck of a lot of opportunity here.”

Frazier agrees with his assertion, citing that 76% of African Americans don’t have a four-year degree versus 76% of Americans age 26 without that credential.

“That’s a big gap. If we allow a situation to exist where four-year degrees are the entry-level criteria, then we’re excluding 3 out of 4 Black folks from ever having an opportunity. We formed this around closing that opportunity gap, creating pathways for African Americans who otherwise would not have a pathway to family-sustaining careers.”

As of 2022, the MIT Living Wage Calculator reveals that the range of such income is currently between $60,000 to $90,000 and higher, depending on a given location.

Corporate partners have adopted that mandate. For example, United Airlines has infused the initiative as part of its talent-building apparatus to meet the carrier’s goal of adding 50,000 workers to its payroll within the next five years.

“Joining OneTen will build on our current talent practices to further develop, retain and advance diverse talent to positions across the airline, better reflecting the customers and communities United serves,” United CEO Scott Kirby, who serves as chair of the Business Roundtable’s Education and Workforce Committee, said in a released statement.

“I look forward to learning from and working with other companies to close the opportunity gap for Black talent and increase opportunities for underrepresented groups in our workforce.”

At a recent OneTen networking event in Philadelphia, Frazier, Jones, and Sulaiman Rahman, CEO of DiverseForce, a human capital solutions firm and local partner, shared their outlook in an exclusive interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE. The following are edited excerpts from that conversation.

Do you have an industry breakdown on where people have been employed?

Jones: If you look at the distribution across industries, it’s retail, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, and finance. They would be the big ones. Then if you looked at the actual jobs, it’s really dispersed. It’s sales jobs, business operations jobs, manufacturing jobs, HR jobs, and finance jobs.

So, how does OneTen track the job retention of these new hires?

Jones: It’s still early but [member] companies have to report to us quarterly. Amongst the data points we are capturing are retention and advancement. We actually want more than just retaining people in frontline jobs, which we see a lot of. What we really want is advancement and promotion. So, we’re trying to track their journey through the company.

Even though your member companies are hiring entry-level workers, how do you encourage them to place people on a management path?

Frazier:  Well, that’s why we say this is about family-sustaining careers. This is not about just hiring. It’s about development, promotion, retention, and advancement. Those are the things that we’re focusing on.

Jones:  So, we do that in a number of ways. One of the things that we are saying is that skills first is an approach for both new hires and promotions because you got a lot of folks who are working in these companies, have been working in them, doing a great job, and the reason they’re not getting promoted is some artificial credential. So, what we’re trying to do with these companies is actually get them to re-credential not just entry-level jobs but all of their jobs. Look at your company from the perspective of building jobs and pathways that are skills first, and that includes promotion opportunities.

Regardless of what level you enter a company, employees will need a skills upgrade to stay with that company.

Frazier: That’s a really important point. One of the things that I stress to people at Merck is that we live in a world with so much change. If you’re going to hire people based on past knowledge and past experience, you’re not necessarily hiring the right person to take you forward. It’s not really your knowledge base or your experience base. Are you intellectually curious? Are you adaptable? Are you the kind of person who’s willing to take a risk? Those things don’t necessarily have anything to do with that college degree. It’s the kind of person that you’re looking for that’s going to help drive through the change that we have in our society.

Some workplace veterans have real concerns. They say, “I may not have a college degree, and I may have started in the workforce 20, 30, 40 years ago, but are you looking at embracing baby boomers and GenXers as well as millennials and GenZers?” The emphasis has been on the younger employees.

Jones:  I’m glad you asked that. So OneTen is from 18 to 65. In fact, our average age of a hire is 33. The point is there are a lot of folks already in the workplace who have skills that would make them ready for jobs paying significantly more than what they’re making now and for jobs that enable them to have more responsibility than they have now.

Courtesy of PR Noir
Courtesy of PR Noir

What have been the most significant challenges for OneTen?

Jones: If I had to pick the greatest challenge, and I’m projecting over time, [it] will be whether we can inspire and sustain the trust that is needed to actually succeed. Companies have to trust that there is talent that they’re missing and that we can help them source that talent. Talent has to trust that the companies really want them; really value and respect them. The organizations that provide support to talent, whether they’re trainers, coaches, or mentors, really have to believe that you have the best interest of that talent at heart. We’re trying to get all of those players to work as a high-functioning team, and every coach will tell you the most valuable asset of a team is trust.

Frazier: The question is, if we’re going to talk about 1 million people, how do we do this at scale? And secondly, in order to do it at scale, how do we make sure that we don’t lose the momentum in the companies that have joined [this effort]. How do we make sure that it doesn’t lose momentum because people forgot about George Floyd, which was the impetus to do this? It’s important that all corporations had to agree on a 10-year commitment. They had to put money on the table. We didn’t let anybody come in saying, ‘I’m going to do this for a couple of years,” and then drop out.

How did the partnership between OneTen and DiverseForce evolve? What are the expectations?

Rahman: Seeing Ken Frazier and other heavy hitters make time to focus on something specific as Black talent was exciting to me and aligned with our mission to elevate Black talent in [Philadelphia]. We constantly challenge companies to rethink whether a four-year degree is needed for certain roles they are hiring for.

What I see this initiative do is democratize excellence for those who don’t have access to four-year education at these universities that are becoming more and more prohibitive to get into…some of this talent who’s taking care of family members [and] can’t afford to take off four years with no pay.

So, I was really excited to see an opportunity with our assets in Philadelphia, along with the social capital of Ken Frazier, Maurice Jones, and all the partners they have in place. We feel we can certainly be a win-win relationship. Let’s say we’re one plus one to equal 11. We saw that opportunity to make that happen here in Philadelphia.

How do you collaborate with the member companies to meet DiverseForce’s objectives?

Rahman:  We’re an extension of OneTen here in Philadelphia to really carry forward their mission to convene the appropriate stakeholders as far as employer partners, talent developers, and talent connectors. We’re the air traffic controllers here in Philadelphia to make sure that we’re working together to advance the mission.

Jones: We wanted a local-based organization that would be the convener of the ecosystem. So, he’s got to touch every single one of the players—the employers, talent developers, talent, and the talent support. That’s what DiverseForce is going to go for.

OneTen’s focus on hiring and promoting large numbers of Black people comes from the top at member companies. How do you ensure all managers within these corporations embrace this mandate?

Frazier: First, you touched on something very important: it’s a CEO-led mission. We realized that to drive this kind of change through an organization, if the CEO is not supportive, it’s just not there. But you need more than the CEOs. It has to be people at every level. I know from my experience that the CEO can say something [and by the time it gets] down to the middle of the organization, they’re like, “I can’t hear you.” You want to make sure that you have people advocating for this in the HR organizations. We’re asking CEOs to make a 10-year commitment to ensure that this gets driven throughout their company. It is not just deja vu. It requires commitment at all levels.