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Craig A. Thompson: Producing more minority professionals

Several recent publications have highlighted the increasing importance of diversity in the workplace, with an emphasis on developing a stronger base of minorities in white-collar professions.

Although balancing the corporate and legal landscape has been trending as a popular topic of discussion, recent statistics demonstrate the challenges of meeting those goals. For example, although the number of law schools has increased, the percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics entering their doors has trended downward since 1993.

Consequently, the percentage of minority attorneys at our nation’s largest firms has held relatively steady or decreased over the last few years. Recent data have found that 13.6 percent of lawyers in the nation’s largest firms in 2011 were minority lawyers, as compared with 13.9 percent in 2010.

In the field of medicine, these challenges also exist. While one in eight Americans is identified as African-American, only one in 15 doctors is African-American. And although one in six Americans is identified as Hispanic/Latino, only one in 20 doctors is identified as such.

With a decrease in the number of minority doctors, some have argued that there has been an alarming decrease in the percentage of minority faculty and staff at our nation’s teaching hospitals and medical schools. Underrepresented minorities make up approximately 7 percent of practicing physicians in the U.S., but those populations are about 28 percent of the U.S. population.

With the rapid and complex demographic changes occurring in our country, it is becoming increasingly more important that medical faculty who are training the next generation of physicians and those delivering health care reflect the diverse populations they will serve.

Creating a balanced workforce

In business, our nation’s top business schools are experiencing a dip in the number of applications submitted by minorities, with the percentage of applications and admissions falling far short of the 28 percent of the U.S. minority population.

When the number of minority graduates from professional schools decreases or remains stagnant, the available pool of qualified minority professionals becomes limited. Many have argued that institutions of higher learning, as nonprofit organizations, have a greater social responsibility to increase the pool of potential qualified minority professionals.

Others take the position that for-profit institutions – which deal with bigger and stronger market-driven forces – should accept greater responsibility to create the balanced workforce necessary to meet the needs of an increasingly competitive world. Whatever position is considered stronger, it is clear that one factor remains critical: More talented minority candidates in our nation’s high schools must be encouraged and inspired to attend, complete and think beyond college.

President Barack Obama has challenged the nation and its educators to increase the number of college graduates significantly by 2020. Indeed, it is essential that the U.S. re-establish its position as the world leader in education. It is also important for us to think and act more intentionally about meeting the needs of an increasingly changing landscape and develop a strong core of professional talent that is reflective of those changes.

Start in high school

Starting at the college level is too late. Our goal as a nation should be to build the expectations and aspirations of the next generation of professionals as early as possible.

Many studies have been published recently that document the challenges that minority students face, not only when selecting a college, but also when making the decision to attend an institution of higher education at all.

Numerous non-academic issues, including what has become known as the soft bigotry of low expectations, has impacted the experiences and expectations of far too many of our students and potential professionals. Other factors, including family, friends/peers and neighborhood dynamics are also viewed as important to consider when discussing the development of a balanced professional class that can meet the needs of an increasingly competitive society.

The bottom line is always the bottom line, and our nation can meet the challenges that it faces by becoming more sensitive to the diversity of experiences and exposure faced by many of the students in our schools. While we dare to fix the problems associated with fewer students in professional schools, it is important that we step back and fully understand the reasons for those changes.

A more proactive attempt to develop and strengthen our high schools is a smart start. Future columns will highlight some examples of best practices and challenge our readers to become more engaged in creating our future.

Craig A. Thompson, who writes a monthly column for The Daily Record, is a partner at Venable LLP and represents clients in the areas of commercial litigation, products liability and personal injury. He is the chair of the firm’s diversity committee. He is also the host of a weekly two-way talk radio show and the author of a series of children’s books on African-American history. His e-mail address is CAThompson@Venable.com.