THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN, THE FIRST African-American military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces, changed the course of history through their courageous contributions to the Allied victory during World War II. As February is Black History Month, it is appropriate to once again honor their service to the country, and their role in advancing civil rights on the home front.
Formerly known as the “Red Tails” because of the crimson paint applied to the tail section of the unit’s aircraft, these brave aviators faced overwhelming prejudice and doubt during a racially segregated time in our nation’s history. Their accomplishments include three Presidential Unit Citations, a Legion of Merit, a Silver Star, four Soldier Medals, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 25 Bronze Stars and 1,031 Air Medals. They are credited with 1,578 missions, 15,533 combat sorties and 112 aerial kills.
“The Tuskegee Airmen proved that African-American pilots could fly missions as well as their white counterparts, which led President Harry S. Truman to integrate the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948,” according to the U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency.
In the years since, the U.S. Armed Forces has led the way in using diversity as a competitive advantage, with minorities well represented in the ranks and in leadership positions. For example, USAF General Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr., who was commander of the Tuskegee Airmen, became the first African-American general officer in the United States Air Force.
Other examples include the first African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking officer of the U.S. Armed Forces—former Secretary of State, retired Army General Colin L. Powell; U.S. Navy Admiral Horacio Rivera, the first Hispanic fourstar Admiral and Vice Chief of Naval Operations; and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, the first nurse and the first woman to serve as the U.S. Army Surgeon General and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Command.
Corporate America has followed the military’s example, but has more work to do to achieve its goals of diversity and inclusion. Programs and initiatives are addressing the need, but these efforts are a work in progress. To assess how some firms are using diversity as a competitive advantage—a key driver of opportunities—COMMERCE asked New Jersey’s leading accounting, banking, environmental and law firms to discuss their outreach, and how it allows them to deliver value to their workforces and clients.
BDO USA, LLP
By Mark Giamo, CPA, NJ
Office Managing Partner, Assurance
BDO has a culture of inclusion. We believe a diverse workforce makes our business and the world around us stronger. The ideas, opinions and contributions which come from employees of different backgrounds and experiences have a positive effect on our growth and the growth of our people. The more diverse our backgrounds, the deeper our insights. Exceptional client service begins and ends with exceptional regard for our people. We don’t just hire individuals with exceptional skills and talent, we provide them with the environment and mentorship they need to develop and grow as professionals—enabling them to make significant contributions at all levels of employment. BDO’s multicultural alliance, pride alliance, women’s inclusion and veteran recruitment initiatives further the firm’s ongoing efforts to promote an environment that is inclusive for all. We strive to foster a culture that encourages diverse voices and empowers our professionals—that is truly our competitive advantage.
By Imad Khoury, SPHR, National Director of Talent Acquisition
In the accounting industry, having great people is the competitive advantage. So, maintaining a diverse, inclusive culture that attracts the industry’s best and brightest is fundamental to CohnReznick’s client service model and long-term success. By hiring people with a wide variety of life and work experiences, we believe we deliver our very best thinking to our clients. That’s because the advice our clients receive from us results from a collaborative effort where many different ideas, opinions and approaches have been shared and debated. To bolster diversity in our recruiting efforts, CohnReznick maintains relationships with many different universities, industry associations and leading organizations such as the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), ASCEND, the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA) and Women in Business. As a core operating principle of our firm, and as a key driver of competitive advantage, CohnReznick stands by the adage that “strength lies in differences, not similarities.”
Deloitte & Touche LLP
By Melissa Naple, Partner, Chair, NJ Executive Women’s Leadership Forum
At Deloitte, we believe that inclusion unleashes the power of diversity. To foster an inclusive culture and insightful dialogue, the New Jersey office recently launched a unique program. Under the leadership of Deloitte’s Executive Women’s Leadership Forum, the initiative reaches local women executives with opportunities to network with one another and discuss critical conversations such as board diversity, future of work and business strategy. We see firsthand the benefits to be gained from the unique backgrounds, experiences and perspectives of an inclusive workforce, and we’re proud to offer programs that broaden that philosophy across the New Jersey community by promoting the careers and leadership skills of talented women. The forum was founded on the premise that talented female professionals and executives can benefit from both trusted mentors and a strong, diverse network of colleagues to establish themselves as leaders in their careers and in the community.
By Corey Temple, Managing Partner (Short Hills)
At KPMG, diversity and inclusion are critical to the fabric of our firm. We believe that building a truly inclusive culture is essential to becoming the clear choice for our people and our clients. With an inclusive culture, all of our professionals feel a sense of belonging at KPMG and are able to bring their whole selves to work. We are proud to be a firm where diversity of thought is welcomed and embraced, which is critical in today’s business environment where complex business issues demand diverse perspectives and innovative ideas to achieve resolution.
Sobel & Co., LLC
By Bridget Hartnett, CPA, PSA, Member-in-Charge, Nonprofit & Social Services Practice
At Sobel & Co., we believe having a diverse workforce provides us with a key competitive edge. As such, one of our core values is “Understanding Diversity,” and we hold fast to that principle. Employees from different cultures, races and religions who represent different genders and generations enable us to expand our own vision and mission while at the same time offering unique perspectives to our clients. When we brainstorm as a practice group or across the entire organization, we appreciate having access to a wide range of viewpoints. As a result, we make better, more meaningful decisions. The same is true when addressing clients’ issues. Providing a variety of outlooks from a diverse team of professionals brings the client added value. This advantage is especially relevant in our nonprofit practice, where clients span diverse demographics. We are even more effective on their behalf when we align our diverse approaches with theirs.
By Linda Bowden, NJ Regional President
A commitment to diversity and inclusion is not only the right thing to do, but in a state like New Jersey it provides a clear, competitive advantage. We are home to one of the country’s most diverse populations, with more than 10 million residents who identify as LGBT, African American, Hispanic, Asian and myriad cultural communities that reflect our nation’s broad cultural heritage. Early on, PNC realized the need to support the needs of a diverse base of customer segments. One example of this commitment is a training program developed for our bankers to become certified Women Business Advocates and serve as experts in supporting women business owners. PNC’s Employee Business Resource Groups in New Jersey also play a key role. These groups are focused on women professionals, LGBT, African American, Latino, Asian American, military veteran segments, among others. Fostering a culture of diversity enables us to better understand one another and earn the business of New Jersey’s diverse population.
By Kelley Cornish, Head of U.S. Diversity & Inclusion
TD Bank is committed to embracing diversity. Our mission is to cultivate a service-oriented, barrier-free culture that attracts, invests in and promotes all talent, reflecting the diverse communities we serve. We foster an inclusive environment where our customers feel welcome, and our colleagues feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. We place the same value on delivering against our success in this area as we do with our strategic and business objectives. Every leader in our organization is accountable for our success by recruiting, developing, retaining and promoting the very best talent from people of all backgrounds and abilities; ensuring every colleague has access to challenging career opportunities and focused individualized development; supporting business resource groups dedicated to advocating for minorities, women, individuals with diverse abilities, members of the LGBT community and veterans; serving the diverse needs of the communities where we work and live; and conducting business with diverse suppliers.
Valley National Bank
By Ira Robbins, President and CEO
At Valley National Bank, we actively seek to create a diverse environment including employees, vendors and the communities we serve. We are proud to embrace a culture of diversity that encourages our associates to share their perspectives, passions and talents. Diversity at Valley means more than an individual’s ethnicity. It includes their background, beliefs, experiences and unique perspectives. A diverse staff, reflective of the cultures and communities where we do business, brings fresh ideas and different skills to our company. These differences serve as effective resources for helping us build talented and cohesive teams that provide an exceptional customer experience every day.
By Kim Camacho, Director, Global Inclusion & Diversity Organization and Employee
As one of the world’s premier, fully integrated infrastructure firms, AECOM is proud to support our 87,000 employees around the world, including more than 500 in New Jersey. AECOM’s longstanding commitment to providing equality for all, without regard to race, religion, sex, pregnancy, age, education, gender, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation is exhibited through honors such as being recognized by the Human Rights Campaign for a perfect score on the Corporate Equality Index. We are committed to ensuring an inclusive and diverse work environment for every employee, client or partner—regardless of where in the world they live and work. Our emphasis on diversity and inclusion helps AECOM secure and retain top talent and enables us to better understand our clients and the communities in which we live and work. Collectively, this makes AECOM more competitive in the marketplace.
Bayshore Family of Companies
By Valerie Montecalvo, President and CEO
Ethnic, religious and gender diversity are a way of life at the Bayshore Family of Companies. Of our total workforce, 49 percent are in minority classifications with 34 percent Hispanic American, 9 percent African American and 6 percent Asian American. Diversity has greatly enhanced our work experience internally on a daily basis as we learn and better appreciate our cultural differences and strengths. Externally, being a WBE gives us a competitive edge in bidding on jobs. Having more than 60 percent of our senior managers, billing, sales, communications and compliance staff being women makes us unique in the construction and heavy highway industry. For example, our Vice President of Technology & Business Development is an experienced woman environmental engineer. The sales force is comprised of women with backgrounds in marketing and sales. Finally, our communications program is run by highly effective women who manage all advertising, publications, social media, press and participation in conferences and events.
By Christopher R. Gibson, Esq., President
Diversity, and creating a culture of inclusion, make us a better employer, a better community partner and a better advocate for our clients. Creating a workplace environment that not only embraces—but actively cultivates—different perspectives and cultures helps employees flourish, and also helps us attract the best and brightest attorneys and support staff. Tangible, meaningful initiatives to increase diversity also show our clients and the larger community that we’re serious about our role in upholding and advancing fairness and equality in all of our business practices and, thus, are a good partner. To thrive in today’s incredibly diverse and competitive business environment, law firms must be a clear and accurate mirror of our multicultural society.
Fox Rothschild LLP
By Prince Altee Thomas, Esq., Co-Chair, Diversity Committee
At Fox Rothschild, our ultimate goal is to provide the best product for our clients. Uniformity in thought, experience, and background promotes blind spots in fashioning the best product—therefore, diversity is an integral part in our firm exploring, designing and delivering the best product for our clients. With a continued emphasis on diversity in how we recruit, how we compose client teams and how we shape policies that impact the lives of our attorneys and staff, we gain access to nuanced perspectives and experiences that enable our firm to be high-performing and agile. Furthermore, our organizational alignment with diversity as an imperative not only allows us to be innovative in our understanding and approach to legal issues, but positions the firm as a trusted broker of legal services at a time when client opportunities and challenges are driven by the reality of an increasingly diversified world
Genova Burns LLC
By Rebecca Moll Freed, Esq., Partner, Chair, Corporate Political Activity Group, Tax-Exempt Organization Practice Group and Vendor Political Activity & Ethics Compliance Training & Audit Programs
As the workforce becomes more diverse and more companies are doing business in a global marketplace, diversity is the key to success. Our firm has found that private- and public-sector clients value diversity when choosing a law firm. In fact, some clients will not select a firm to provide legal services if that firm fails to meet diversity benchmarks. Because Genova Burns has attorneys from diverse backgrounds at various levels within the firm, we have been able to enter new markets and build upon current relationships. In many respects, our diversity has enabled us to become highly integrated with our clients and their teams—and this type of seamless integration is key to providing effective legal representation.
By Patrick C. Dunican, Jr., Esq., Chairman and Managing Director
Since our founding in 1926, Gibbons has been headquartered in Newark, a city with a dynamic, diverse population from which we have always drawn a significant portion of our employee base. We have, therefore, always been aware of the distinct competitive advantage diversity brings to a workplace: valuable perspectives, cultural competence, and talents that allow us to be more creative, effective, and successful in the practice of law and service to our clients. Diversity of perspective results in diversity of solutions, and we are in the solution delivery business. We also support two renowned programs— the Gibbons Diversity Initiative and the Gibbons Women’s Initiative—designed to recruit, develop, retain and promote a more diverse attorney workforce. These programs are exceptionally well-received by our attorneys, which leads to more satisfied employees and, in turn, lower turnover and continuity of service that is extremely beneficial to clients.
Jackson Lewis P.C.
By Gregory Alvarez, Esq. Managing Principal (Morristown)
Reflecting a diverse workforce is vital to an organization’s success and cultivating a competitive advantage. Our clients want to work with attorneys who reflect their own workforces and communities—who make the clients feel their needs will be understood. In addition, as employment lawyers, Jackson Lewis attorneys help clients seek the broadest possible candidate pool to create positive, highly productive work environments. Led by our chairperson, we have taken aggressive steps to promote diversity and inclusion, including creating the Jackson Lewis Scholarship Program, expanding our summer law clerk program, establishing an internal D&I Committee with responsibility for enhancing firm diversity and inclusion, and retaining a nationally recognized consultant to provide unconscious bias training. By leveraging the unique qualities our diverse workforce brings to the table—different experiences and perspectives—we are better equipped to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations, and to succeed in today’s competitive legal landscape.
NPZ Law Group, P.C.
By David H. Nachman, Esq., U.S. Managing Attorney
The Nachman Phulwani Zimovcak (NPZ) Law Group is an immigration and nationality law firm. Our staff is international, and our clients benefit from our collective knowledge of multiple cultures. For example, a client’s U.S. Investor Visa application was processed smoothly because our staff was able to collaborate effectively with the client’s foreign bank to obtain financial information in a format which was acceptable to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the American Consulate overseas. While staff diversity is essential to the function of our organization, on a more personal level, each of us is happy to earn the respect and admiration of co-workers upon making a unique contribution to a project. NPZ also views diversity at work as a form of “continuing education” for the staff because it inspires novel approaches to solve problems.