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The Partnership marks 30 years

Organization helps people of color rise through corporate ranks

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
The Partnership marks 30 years
\The Partnership welcomed its 2017 class of fellows with an orientation on Jan. 26. (Photo: Nate Fried-Lipski)

The Partnership, a nonprofit with a mission of diversifying Boston’s corporate leadership pipeline, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Since 1987, the Boston-based organization has offered leadership development programs to nurture the talent of African Americans and, increasingly, other people of color traditionally underrepresented at the highest levels of business and industry. Over the years, the organization has worked with some 300 partner organizations and now has a network of more than 4,000 alumni.

Good leadership

President and CEO Carol Fulp, who has led The Partnership since 2012, explained that the organization takes a dual approach to expanding corporate diversity: At the same time as its leadership training programs prepare people of color for executive opportunities, its corporate consulting helps ensure that companies are ready to welcome diverse candidates.

“We work with corporations on really understanding the advantages that diversity brings,” Fulp said in a recent interview. “It’s a global marketplace. If you want to produce goods and services accepted in world markets, you want people who reflect those markets.”

Fulp cited a wealth of studies in recent years, by Forbes, McKinsey, Scientific American and others, that underscore the value of a diverse workforce in making companies innovative and profitable, as well as census data that confirm the growing proportion of people of color in the U.S. population.

“At the end of the day, our workforce is going to be people of color, so you want to be sure you have an environment that’s conducive to all people,” she said. “That’s just good leadership.”

Staying power

Marita Rivero, executive director of the Museum of African American History in Boston and Nantucket, was an early participant. Back in 1988, as she was returning to Boston from Washington D.C. to resume a radio career at WGBH, the public broadcast station signed her up for a Partnership fellows program.

Today, Rivero credits The Partnership not only with fostering new business and friend relationships, but with keeping her in town.

“I had experienced Boston at its most difficult time in terms of racial tensions,” she told the Banner. “People wondered why on earth I would come back, and I intended to be here about three years.”

But she stayed, rising to vice president and general manager for radio and television at WGBH and spending some 30 years there.

“Part of changing my mind was the Partnership. It changed how I thought I could move through the city over time. It provided a real thought leadership and a view that we were more than simply people sitting in little jobs. We as black people were connected to other people in the city; there was a whole culture that we were part of. We could engage with it, and really become rooted.”

Return on investment

The Partnership’s 2017 cohort of 200 fellows, who met for the first time on Jan. 26, come from a wide range of industries and companies and are enrolled in programs tailored for early career, mid-career, executive and “C-suite” levels. A new BioDiversity Fellows program targets mid-career life sciences professionals. Over the course of a year, the fellows will receive training and mentoring and networking opportunities to bolster the sorts of leadership, relationship building, emotional intelligence and organizational capabilities necessary to rise, thrive and take charge in the corporate world.

“You may be bright, but not understand the corporate culture,” said Fulp. “We don’t want you to not succeed because of that.”

Participating fellows have been identified as high-potential candidates by their employers, who typically cover program fees, which range from $5,000 to $9,500.

“This is a return on investment,” said Fulp. “These are individuals the corporations want to retain and develop further. Companies provide leadership training because they believe you are already providing value.” Part of the return, she noted, is that Partnership fellows share what they’ve learned with their team members and manager as they go through the year-long program.

The Partnership will be unveiling its own “30 years of impact” report at a three-day summit of fellows, alumni and corporate partners to be held in June on Martha’s Vineyard, she said.

Prior to taking the helm at The Partnership in 2012, Fulp had served as a U.S. representative to the 65th United Nations General Assembly in 2010-11, appointed by President Obama. She had taken a leave of absence from her job as a senior vice president at John Hancock Financial in order to fulfill the UN assignment.

“A role like that really transforms you,” she said. “When I came back, I thought, ‘What am I called to do?’ And I felt I wanted Boston to look more like the United Nations. So when this [Partnership] opportunity came open, I was delighted to step into it.”

Fulp traced The Partnership’s 30-year history. The organization came into being with the merger of two initiatives: Mayor Kevin White’s Committee for Boston, formed to provide a forum on racial tensions after a tumultuous period in Boston’s racial history that included court-ordered busing for school desegregation, and the Corporation for Boston that Hubie Jones formed to advance the city’s African Americans.

Boston rising

Earlier leaders Hassan Minor Jr., Benaree Pratt Wiley and Beverly Edgehill expanded The Partnership’s offerings over time, increasing the range of program levels, number of minority groups served and services offered to corporations. Fulp’s own contribution is the addition of the C-suite program for the highest level of executives of color — those in roles whose acronyms begin with “C,” such as chief executive, financial, operations, technology and information officers.

Fulp considers it a testament to the progress Boston has made over recent decades that there are now enough people of color in high-level corporate roles for The Partnership to engage them with a C-level tailored program.

“Our city has grown. We are now a majority-minority city and we have people of color at all levels. Our mission is to engage all of them and to grow the numbers, particularly at highest level.”