How CEOs can better support HBCU students

CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion plans to expand professional opportunities for HBCU students
By: | August 17, 2020
More than 1,200 business leaders and university presidents have signed onto CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion to support HBCUs and make corporate hiring practices more inclusive. (GettyImages/Maskot)More than 1,200 business leaders and university presidents have signed onto CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion to support HBCUs and make corporate hiring practices more inclusive. (GettyImages/Maskot)
Reynold Verret, president, Xavier University of Louisiana

Reynold Verret, president, Xavier University of Louisiana

Administrators looking to bring greater fairness to career outcomes for underrepresented students can look to a coalition of CEOs that is pivoting to bolster supports for historically black colleges and universities.

More than 1,200 business leaders and university presidents have signed onto CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, also known as CEO Action, to make corporate hiring practices more inclusive.

For this effort to succeed, CEOs must increase their engagement with HBCUs, which remain a key source of talent for companies that need to diversify their workforces, says Reynold Verret, a member of the coalition and president of Xavier University of Louisiana.

“We understand the wealth disparities for African American families,” Verret says. “Many HBCU students are first-generation college students in the lower socioeconomic strata. The pathway to college is difficult, so we have to work to make it affordable.”


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Members of CEO Action have committed to four central pledges:

  • Creating a safe place to have complex conversations around race and diversity
  • Expanding unconscious bias education
  • Sharing leadership practices
  • Creating and sharing strategic diversity plans among leaderships

The coalition works with university presidents to help increase awareness of unconscious bias, its impact and how to build better inclusive leadership skills.

But this work on inclusivity and equity must also stretch back in K-12, which means first focusing on the success of Black and brown students in elementary school as well as diversifying the teacher workforce, Verret says,

“We need to build capacity in third, fourth and fifth grade,” he says. “We need the assistance of the larger nation because we’re not just serving a sector of the population—we’re serving the whole nation.”