Colette Phillips

Greater Boston’s western suburbs are often dismissed for their homogeneity.  

But the truth is, it is a region that draws people of all ethnicities from all points of the globe – which is not to say there aren’t also deep systemic inequities here which have held back the economy and must play a critical role in our recovery.  

That’s why we recently partnered to publish the “Newton-Needham MetroWest Most Influential Business People of Color” list. 

Or goal was three-fold. 

First, we wanted to celebrate, document and showcase the some of the many professionals and executives of color making a positive contribution to the economic and social fabric of the region. We also wanted to acknowledge the employers in the region who aren’t just talking about diversity, but who embrace it through hiring leaders of color. 

Greg Reibman

Second, we also wanted the list to spark conversations about where we fall short, too, and how we can and must do better. 

Finally, we wanted to send a strong statement to our businesses, nonprofits and social institutions to replace the phrase “We can’t find qualified candidates of color” with the names we highlighted and the many other exemplary people of color working and seeking opportunities in MetroWest. The woman and men on our list are just part of the story: We received just under 200 nominations which were then winnowed down to the 50 deemed “most influential” by a seven-member selection committee. 

A Challenge to Real Estate Leaders 

Our honorees represent a variety of industries, including technology, life sciences, retail, health care and financial services. They include many of the region’s top employers, such as IDG, Staples, TJX Cos., Thermo Fisher and Tufts Health Plan as well as nonprofits, educators, elected leaders, clergy and solo entrepreneurs. 

We uncovered gaps too. For example, as the nominations were arriving, we couldn’t help but notice how few individuals in the real estate sector were submitted.  Given the size and scope of the market, there should have been more. That’s a shortcoming we challenge CEOs, boards of directors, investors and heads of HR consider seriously. 

But don’t so because it’s the right thing to do.  

Don’t do it out of political correctness. 

Do because it’s smart business. 

Do it because the color that matters most is green. And women and people of color are increasingly becoming the significant growth markets and demographics in the suburbs, in Greater Boston and across the country. You are leaving money on the table if you are not thinking about how to engage the market. 

A now-prescient study by Great Places to Work at the end of 2019 found that publicly traded companies during and following the Great Recession that performed best were the ones that provided positive experiencers to women, people of color, hourly workers, and other historically marginalized workers.  

Fortune Magazine reported that while companies in the S&P 500 saw their stock prices crater by almost 36 percent from 2007 to 2009, companies that were most invested in the diversity of their employees grew 14.4 percent.   

Why? In part because these companies recognized that communities of color tended to be in positions closer to the end customer and often had untapped insights into where costs could be cut or revenues boosted. Put simply, employers that were inclusive about their decision-making came out on top.  

Key to Pandemic Recovery 

At a moment when so much is unclear, one thing is not: We need all hands on deck for what will be a difficult several months for our regional economy. The sooner we make our businesses diverse and inclusive, the nimbler and better prepared they will be  for the recession and for writing the economy’s next chapter. 

Businesses would be smart to look at diversity and inclusion as an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage in a post COVID-19. As we emerge from the pandemic, diversity and inclusion will be necessary as hiring will go into hyperdrive as the Baby Boomer generation –overwhelmingly white and the second largest population in the country – retire, and businesses look to workers and customers among Millennials and Generation Z – which just happens to be the most diverse generation in history.  

Research by McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have above-average financial returns. And companies in the bottom quartile for diversity were less likely to achieve above-average results, while businesses that fail to foster inclusive workplaces see higher turnover rates than businesses that value a diverse workforce because they foster a hostile work environment that forces employees to leave. 

Not sure where to start? Reach out to any of the 50 outstanding business leaders of color on our list. They understand both the challenges and the opportunities.  

Colette Phillips is the president and CEO of Colette Phillips Communications Inc. and runs executive placement firm GK Execu Search. Greg Reibman is president of the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber 

Time to Change the Conversation Around Diversity in the Suburbs

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min