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Pittsburgh panel to promote diversity in business

Jeremy Boren
| Friday, May 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Pittsburgh's minority workforce statistics aren't flattering.

That bothers a group of business executives and public officials, dubbed the Corporate Equity & Inclusion Roundtable, who said Thursday they will work to boost the metro region's dubious standing near the bottom of rankings that gauge minority employment and demographic representation.

“We're way, way behind, and it's been getting worse over time,” said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Blacks are particularly under-represented in high-demand and high-paid occupations, Yablonsky said.

For example, a 2011 report by the National Association for Legal Career Professionals said 1.69 percent of partners at Pittsburgh law firms were minorities — last among 44 metro areas examined in the survey.

“Our businesses who are growing and want to add jobs here will not be able to meet their needs with people who look like me,” said Yablonsky, who is white.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Black Political Empowerment Project Chairman Tim Stevens initiated the roundtable. Its inaugural meeting was May 13 at Duquesne University.

Executives from UPMC, PNC, Jones Day, Chester Engineers and other firms are among the 25 organizations participating.

Greg Spencer, CEO of Randall Industries, an industrial cleaning and maintenance firm, said he's usually skeptical about the efficacy of large committees taking on such complex problems, but he agreed to work with the roundtable because it includes corporate executives capable of influencing hiring decisions.

He said the goal is to share recruitment strategies, exchange lists of hard-to-find minority-owned suppliers and contractors, and encourage the use of internships and other training programs that offer opportunities to young minorities.

Spencer's personal success story starting out as a warehouse worker for U.S. Steel Corp. informs his work. He dropped out of college and later earned his degree in night school. Mentors identified his talents and U.S. Steel moved him into a management training program. He said he was the first black man to rise through many of the corporation's ranks.

“I worked extremely hard,” he said.

Spencer, of Shadyside, said he and others will devise a scorecard to collect data from Pittsburgh-area corporations about diversity in their workforces and executive suites. He hopes to use that information not to embarrass companies into action, but to encourage them to improve hiring practices.

“The idea is to sit down and say, ‘Here's where you are' and say ‘How can we help you do better?'” Spencer said.

Fitzgerald said he made minority participation a priority since taking office in January 2012.

He chose two black directors — Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper, hired in October, and Elliott Howsie, hired in March to head the Office of Public Defender.

Fitzgerald said 26 percent of his appointments to county boards and authorities are minorities. Records show 31 of Fitzgerald's 116 appointments are minorities, tapped for boards overseeing Community College of Allegheny County, the Sports & Exhibiton Authority, Regional Asset District and Port Authority.

Fitzgerald noted that 14 percent of the county workforce is made up of minorities, most of them black. That roughly mirrors the county's demographics. Blacks make up about 13.3 percent of Allegheny County's population, census figures show.

The larger region lags on a list of 40 metro areas in its population of nonwhites, according to the census.

“We need to treat this like a business problem,” said Laura Ellsworth, a partner at Downtown law firm Jones Day. “Unless and until our metrics and our numbers are better than 40th out of 40, we have not succeeded and we are not going to stop.”

Jeremy Boren is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7935 or

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