Why equity?

Several high-profile events over the past five years have forced the American public to revisit the complex and often uncomfortable issue of racial inequality in our society. The 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida arguably jump-started the recent shift toward a more explicit national conversation about bias, discrimination, and inequality, which then gained further momentum with the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to a series of police-involved shootings of African Americans in the years that followed. More recently, the country endured a divisive presidential campaign cycle that prominently featured both implied (immigration policies) and overt (endorsements by white nationalists) racialized themes.

In the wake of this highly-charged environment, several important responses began to emerge from civil society, including increased media and philanthropic attention to issues related to race equity. Within this context, our research team began to wrestle with the implications of race equity for our own work. What should be the response of workforce development policymakers, researchers, funders, and practitioners in addressing issues of race equity? More specifically, what is the interplay between race equity strategies and prevailing best practices in workforce development such as sector strategies?

With these questions in mind, the Sector Strategies for Equity initiative was launched in early 2017 to investigate the potential of sector partnerships to address race- and ethnicity-based workforce disparities. In the workforce development field, "sector partnerships" (sometimes called “industry partnerships”) bring together a group of employers with similar skill needs – typically within a specific industry or cluster of occupations - to jointly develop and implement solutions to their regional workforce challenges. These partnerships coordinate resources and align strategies across a range of workforce development stakeholders, including businesses, education and training providers, the public workforce system, community-based organizations, and philanthropy.

There is growing evidence that sector strategies produce positive results for both workers and their employers, including positive employment, income, and career advancement outcomes for lower-income workers. Meanwhile, despite many gains, significant racial/ethnic gaps in median income and labor market participation persist, with African Americans and Latinos working and earning less, on average, than Non-Hispanic Whites.

Over the course of the next year, the Sector Strategies for Equity project will conduct a national survey of sector partnerships along with a series of in-depth interviews to better understand the extent to which sector partnerships have adopted equity goals and to identify lessons learned among those that have done so. The findings will be summarized in a final report and published on this website along with other tools and resources on equity.

Finally, we’ll be regularly updating this website to delve deeper on a range of topics, including how we’re defining equity, practical tools for advancing equity, and further background on race equity and employment in the United States. You can follow us on Twitter at @SectorsEquity to stay abreast of new posts and resources.