Opinion

Why We Need More Black Voices in the C-Suite

Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

In his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. observed that a century after the end of the Civil War, African Americans still found themselves “on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” Sadly, his words still ring true today. While African Americans in the United States have made important progress in advancing aspects of a traditional civil rights agenda, efforts to achieve greater economic equality have been far less successful. Galvanized by the killing of George Floyd and country-wide demonstrations that have followed, we must focus our attention on the causes of economic inequality and ways to combat it.

African Americans have achieved significant advancements in the political sphere over the last seven decades, with the election of Barack Obama as an obvious and important benchmark. There are now 57 Black members of the U.S. Congress, and a growing number of Black representatives in state and local governments.

But our society has failed to make concomitant progress in promoting economic opportunity for African Americans. In 2016, the net worth of a typical white family was $171,000 – nearly ten times greater than a typical Black family’s net worth of $17,150. This wealth gap remains when isolating for different age groups and income levels. Black families also suffer more in economic downturns: from 2007 to 2013, median net worth declined for Black families by 44.3 percent while white families saw a 26.1 percent decline. These discrepancies are mirrored across other indicators of financial well-being and participation. Only 44 percent of African Americans own their own homes, compared with 74 percent of white Americans. While 64 percent of white Americans own stocks in 2020, only 42 percent of Black Americans do. And among college-educated workers, Black men earn $0.87 for every dollar a white man earns, and Black women earn only $0.75. As Ray Boshara of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, and others, have said, these disparities have been growing over the last few decades. Between 1992 and 2016, wealth among college-educated white people increased by 96 percent while Black counterparts saw their wealth fall by 10 percent.

Read the full Forbes article.
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Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.