EARN: Fighting for equal pay and job opportunities for African Americans

EARN: Fighting for equal pay and job opportunities for African Americans

PITTSBURGH — Three major issues brought three Pittsburgh executives together to form The Executive Action and Response Network (EARN) of Pittsburgh.

The co-founders of EARN said their mission is to mitigate the culturally-imposed reality for African Americans in Pittsburgh, while also shifting the national and regional character for African American professionals, their families and their communities through advocacy.

“After the murder of George Floyd, we realized that our voices, the collective of Black executive leadership, was largely missing from the fabric of reaction,” said Jessica Brooks, co-founder of EARN.

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“A definitive statement needed to be made, recognizing three major issues,” said George Robinson II, co-founder of EARN.

Pittsburgh’s 2019 Gender Equity report is one of the three reasons why EARN was formed.

“We don’t get paid as much as other people. This is one of the worst places to be a pregnant Black woman. This is one of the worst places to be a Black young girl,” Brooks said.

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The report released by University of Pittsburgh researchers found disparities for African Americans in education, mortality rate, health and income.

Less than a year after the report was released, COVID-19 hit, disproportionately affecting African Americans. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, George Floyd was killed at the hands of police.

“It’s a sense of emergency. There is a sense of urgency,” Brooks said.

EARN formed at the height of civil unrest across the nation. Before the formation of EARN, each co-founder was already busy paving the way for Black executive leadership in Pittsburgh, within their own individual careers. Now they are building bridges of opportunities to ensure African Americans, in our region secure high-level executive roles.

We are getting real about the important issues in our communities – from racism to housing and healthcare inequities to policing reforms. We bring you stories that tackle the tough issues and give a voice to the often marginalized voices in our city.

“In a region that has historically been known to be rich in natural resources, there is a resource in Pittsburgh that remains untapped, and that resource is the talent and leadership within the Black community here. That is a fundamental truth and a truth that we hope to see usher into an existence here.” said Martin Shepard, co-founder of EARN.

EARN’s action plan began with a two-page letter of urgency to corporations, academic institutions and nonprofits in Pittsburgh.

The group sent a list of recommendations, urging companies to commit to investing in employment, health and pay equity for African Americans in Pittsburgh, and training for all employees on implicit bias.

“It resonated with me personally, when we talk about a representation of diverse talent in this region," said Dr. Lonie Haynes, Chief Diversity Officer for Highmark Health.

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Haynes said his organization understands the importance of having a diverse workforce. Highmark Health established a diversity and inclusion committee board in 1999 and offers programs to ensure diverse talent is brought into the organization.

“As an organization we’ve already done all the foundational work that should be done. My challenge to my corporate peers, and the rest of the region, is you’ve got to get that foundational piece in place, because responding to this with banner -waving and metrics you want to put out will not help us as a region thrive,” Haynes said.

Dr. Zane Gates, of Empower 3 Center For Health, credits EARN for helping him find diverse talent. He recently interviewed multiple African Americans for senior level positions.

“They gave us a better pathway to really start looking at more candidates and putting them in the right positions,” Gates said.