Workforce discrimination exists because we often fail to disengage from our own biases. In every industry and in every sector, headlines glaringly reflect on the grievances of the 21st century workforce: gender pay inequity, racial discrimination and ageism. All act as adversarial realities in the fight for economic opportunity and equality.
Advocacy against discriminatory practices could not be more prescient today as far as workingmen and women are concerned. Today, the American worker faces many challenges as more corporations corrode the promises of a democracy and global competition strips them of a decent living wage. The playing field is not level and the absence of diversity is central in preserving the status quo of systemic discrimination.
During my tenure at the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), it became clear to me that access was the foundation of economic opportunity. The transportation sector lacked diversity, equity and inclusion, and this was glaringly obvious to both leadership and employees. Pathways began to emerge to grow a diverse pool of talent, but it was obvious that a more organizational framework was needed to operate at full capacity to best serve veterans, women, underrepresented, and underserved workers; groups that had been previously overlooked.
The urgency to transform the pipeline of professionals in my field to deter workforce discrimination led me to create the Transportation Diversity Council (TDC) in 2010 in New York. The big idea welded together community partnerships with transportation agencies and businesses—to merge the demands and needs of a sector with individuals who were hungry to work. The lucrative sector had room for a creative repositioning to benefit companies and workers, and this called for dedicated and purposeful action.
Bronx Design and Construction Academy was born in 2011 as a key partner to TDC thanks to the NYC Mayor’s Office and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. The program set in motion a unique environment of workforce development for underserved students curious about the transportation and construction sector. I’ve had the privilege to invite students from diverse backgrounds and thanks to our quality staff. We’ve given hope and have produced life-changing outcomes to a wide range of students, including low-income, DACA recipients, and international youth.
Today, TDC is also making cross-country strides and demonstrating its workforce development model in key geographies. Local engagement in communities like Anniston, Alabama, is one of TDC’s markers of success with New Flyer of America, the largest transit bus manufacturer in the states.
In various regions, we have been able to help formerly incarcerated workers, like Jason Webster, have a shot at turning their life around. Previously behind bars for 16 years, Jason’s rocky beginnings did not prevent him from a New Flyer career, which kick started with programmatic TDC offerings in emotional intelligence, financial health and specialized training. Preparing America’s workforce towards the advancement of diversity, equity and inclusion in our industries requires a holistic program that is based on empathy, confidence building, guidance and workforce retention.
Partners, like New Flyer, understand that we need to disengage from old biases, and live up to leveling that playing field by working arduously for equal opportunity for the most disenfranchised worker—there are thousands of individuals like Jason across the United States just waiting to have that one chance to triumph and excel after unimaginable hardship. We are here for them. We hope to build upon our success stories where mentoring, work readiness, life skills training and support, all factor in to help a worker get their foot in the door to contribute to society.
Throughout 2020, and as we continue to think about what we can do to empower others, I encourage all entrepreneurs and business owners to reconfigure their talent pipeline to equitably account for diversity. Exposure to opportunity is indeed everything for the American worker. It is the foundation for a democracy and a change agent when it comes to truly closing the door on discrimination.
(Dwayne Sampson is the founder/president of the Transportation Diversity Council).