Pancakes and Politics 2021: CEO Roundtable Talk Business, Diversity and Moving Forward

Real Times Media’s Chief Executive Officer, Hiram E. Jackson, opened the second Pancakes and Politics forum of the year to introduce the series’ latest installment. Featuring top CEOs from some of Detroit’s most prominent business avenues, this installment merges corporate with politics while still delivering the thought-provoking conversations the roundtable is known.

Hosted by President and CEO of Ignite Media Group, Dennis Archer Jr., the conversation for this forum centered around businesses and their responsibilities to the community, investment in Black and brown initiatives, and how their corporations lead the charge.

A leading topic in recent months, the fight for social justice has become vitally crucial with countless murders of unarmed Black men and women. Some corporations have made the conscious decision to become more involved in issues surrounding racism and oppression in its midst and continually made steps in social reform, equality, and inclusion. With the current civil, social, and political unrest, diversity at the corporate level is becoming essential.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are near and dear to me because as a person of color, and a woman and a mom, I think I check every box that exists,” says Audrey Gregory, CEO at the Detroit Medical Center. “We’re intentional about making sure that leadership and our team represents the community that they serve.”

Throughout COVID, Black businesses have faced hardships on a different scale. Already facing issues with access to financial capital, affordable and viable land for brick and mortar, and knowledge of programs aimed at business education, Black small business owners have seen an added obstacle with the pandemic in their pursuit of economic opportunity. As a result, institutions like Flagstar have stepped in to provide grants and other financial resources essential for survival.

“What we’re trying to do is help educate people. Financial literacy is very important whether it’s kids in school or mature people they are looking to start or improve their businesses, education is really important. We’re trying to be a leader in that regard,” says Alessandro Dinello, CEO at Flagstar Bank.

For Detroiters and the high unemployment rate in the city, access to high-paying jobs and employment opportunities are few and far between. Despite new facilities and corporations bringing business to Detroit, proving the necessary employment documents is challenging for residents because of dated record processes.

“As we started digging into the data, things like verification of high school diploma from Detroit Public Schools became an issue that we had to center on,” says Jeff Donofrio, CEO for Business Leaders for Michigan. “For Detroit Public Schools, because of its long history, because of some of the challenges it had around management and organization, it was taking two to three months, if not longer to get verification of a high school diploma.”

The responsibility of Black CEOs in predominantly white-male-driven business spaces is often called into question. Black CEOs are torn between two worlds and pressured to perform for their positions and extend grace and opportunities to their community. Despite the constant tug, minority CEOs prioritize how they work and their impact in their communities while emphasizing practicing authenticity.

“I will say there is an authenticity that is required when you are a leader and I think highly more so when you are a person of color serving in a large organization,” says Audrey Gregory, CEO at the Detroit Medical Center. “I think it’s important for us to own who we are.”

As Black men and women move higher up the corporate ladder, the responsibility and pressures of being a minority amongst the majority continue to mount. Leading with heart and integrity for all is the path these CEOs are taking.

“People have to understand you’re not the CEO of a piece of a company or a piece of the employee body, but your job is trying to ensure the prosperity of the company you serve,” says Wright Lassiter III, CEO of the Henry Ford Health System.

The CEO roundtable is available for viewing on the Michigan Chronicle’s Facebook page. Please stay tuned for a special one-on-one interview with Pancakes and Politics host Dennis Archer III and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the upcoming newsletter available May 1.

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