US programme connects industry with HBCUs for better workforce diversity

SOURCE: Shutterstock
HBCUs were created with the mission to meet the educational needs of black students.

By U2B Staff 

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An initiative to improve workforce diversity and lift the status of Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) across the US has attracted over 35 companies to date, many of them large corporates like Amazon, Dell and Lyft to name a few.

Launched last February by the congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, the Caucus Partnership Challenge focuses on promoting greater engagement and recruitment efforts from private companies to HBCU students.

“Engaging with businesses and industry is a key step to promoting our nation’s HBCUs,” Congressman Bradley Byrne said at the programme’s launch.

“Through these partnerships, we can increase exposure of the important role HBCUs play in building the workforce of the 21st Century.”


The benefits of the Caucus Partnership Challenge are two-pronged–the Caucus wants to address the inequities facing HBCUs and even out the playing field for its graduates, allowing them access to the same federal resources and private sector opportunities as their peers.

At the same time, such public-private partnerships are key to creating a talent pipeline for the future that’s not only equipped with diverse skillsets but is ethnically and culturally diverse as well. Why diversity is important is that it allows for different perspectives in the workplace, creating an environment that inspires creativity and helps drive innovation.

Diversity isn’t just a target to hit – it also contributes to bottom lines. Source: Shutterstock

Fact is, diversity matters–and it pays.

This is particularly true for leadership teams. A McKinsey & Co report entitled “Delivering through Diversity” said the more diverse the company’s leaders are, the better they perform financially. Data from 1,000 companies across 12 countries showed that those ranking in the top quartile were 33 percent more likely to see above-average profitability than those with less diverse leadership teams.

Created with the mission to meet the educational needs of black students, HBCUs naturally play a pivotal role in helping companies achieve their diversity targets.

As learning institutions that first gave black students the opportunity to get a higher education qualification, the schools have always played a critical role in the African American community. And they still do today–increasing anti-immigration rhetoric in a country swinging further right has seen HBCU enrollment rise in recent years, according to Affordable Colleges Online

Interestingly, HBCUs are not insular institutions, despite their founding purpose. According to the National Center for Education Statistics of the US Department of Education, non-black enrolments at HBCUs were 23 percent as at 2016, up from 15 percent in 1976.

Many HBCU students enter into STEM roles, seen as crucial today to fill the growing digital skills gap. According to Congresswoman Alma S. Adams, 40 percent of all African American engineers in country graduated from HBCUs.

HBCUs, she says, hold the key to creating tomorrow’s diverse workforces.

“We must ensure all industries look like America,” she says. 

And it’s through initiatives like the Caucus Partnership Challenge that such a dream can become reality.


During the 2nd Diversity Tech Summit at Howard University in Washington DC last week, a new private company signed on to the challenge: leading online real estate database firm Zillow

The firm joins over 35 other corporates to participate in the challenge, which apart from Amazon, Dell and Lyft, includes the likes of Pandora and Volvo Group North America.

Commenting on the firm’s decision to participate, Zillow vice president of government relations and public affairs said the company believes in the value of investing in and engaging with HBCUs.

This, he said, is because the institutions provide the collaborative learning environments that help equips students with the necessary skills to become future leaders.

“Through our participation in the HBCU Partnership Challenge, we are committing to strengthening our recruiting pipeline through engagement with HBCUs to find many of the talented employees critical to fulfilling our mission of transforming the real estate experience for consumers so they can find and get into a home they love,” he said,

“Public-private partnerships like this are critical to growing a talented and diverse workforce. We applaud Congresswoman Adams and the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus for their tireless and inspirational leadership to create meaningful partnerships between the tech industry and HBCUs.”

Adams in her response said: “I look forward to working with Zillow to forge strong and sustainable partnerships with HBCUs to ensure equal access to 21st century opportunities for students of color.”

Zillow participation makes sense. The firm has offices in the same states as half of the country’s HBCUs, which means it is best-placed to help nurture and develop HBCU talents. The firm also believes strongly in embracing a diverse workforce, recognising that diversity not only enhances the workplace culture but is key to its success as a company.