Partnering for Progress to Bridge the Opportunity Divide
A generation ago, proficiency in numeracy and literacy were baseline skills to enter the workforce. Today’s workplaces, however, require digital competency — and that’s not just for jobs in technical fields. Positions at every level and in virtually every sector, from healthcare to manufacturing, education to retail, require employees to engage with an ever-growing array of digital tools. That’s why we at Comcast NBCUniversal are investing in programs that help people progress from digital literacy to the real-world application of skills in the workforce.
We are working with organizations that are providing diverse — and traditionally underserved — communities with resources to bridge the opportunity divide. For example, we have chosen to partner with the National Urban League (NUL) and UnidosUS, two leading organizations with longstanding and proven histories of tackling challenging issues in communities of color. Our work is focused on helping these communities prepare for the digital economy, because studies show they are disproportionately affected by the digital divide. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, in research funded by Comcast NBCUniversal, found that 27% of African Americans and 31% of Hispanics are concentrated in 30 occupations at high risk of being eliminated or fundamentally changed by automation.
Marc Morial, President and Chief Executive Officer of NUL, and Janet Murguía, President and Chief Executive Officer of UnidosUS, have been strong advocates of our efforts to address the opportunity divide and our work on diversity overall, serving as members of our company’s Joint Diversity Advisory Council (JDC), which advises Comcast NBCUniversal on diversity and inclusion strategy and initiatives. The two leaders joined us recently in a conversation about our work together to address the opportunity divide and our company’s approach to diversity and inclusion.
Q: Both of your organizations are working to build digital skills in communities of color. Why is that a priority?
Janet Murguía: If we’re going to bridge the digital divide and the opportunity divide, we have to make sure that individuals in communities of color have access to the training they need to navigate that economy. By training and educating people in our communities around digital literacy, it enhances our ability to integrate digital tools into our other areas, beyond workforce. We’re able to bring that lens into civic engagement and immigrant integration, and that’s been a real benefit. At UnidosUS, our Innovation Peer Exchanges, for example, have trained more than 7,000 people in 10 cities in workforce and civic engagement since we started the program in 2016.
Marc Morial: The digital divide is real, and the digital revolution is upon us. Everything requires digital skills these days — from setting up an account for electricity service to applying for health insurance. We have to look at technology capability as an essential skill. We have sought to integrate up-skilling around technology in as many programs as possible. For example, the NUL has an initiative to recruit people of color into apprenticeships around tech. These enable people to learn on the job while earning a paycheck, in an area where there are great opportunities. All of these programs that enhance digital literacy and aptitude are about people’s ability to function in 21st century America. That’s why it’s so important that Comcast is continuing to invest in this.
JM: And when a company wants to bring tech skills to underserved communities, it’s important that they do so in ways that connect with people who speak different languages and come from different cultures. By partnering with UnidosUS and the NUL, Comcast NBCUniversal is able to make sure that the company is reaching its target audiences in the right ways. We see Comcast NBCUniversal as a critical ally when it comes to tackling important issues within underserved communities.
Q: Where do you see the biggest hurdles in bridging the digital divide?
MM: From my perspective, one of the biggest challenges is integrating technology into our education system. We teach children how to write from the earliest of ages; we must do the same with technology, so even the youngest children are exposed to it in the classroom.
JM: I’d say making sure that all people are able to navigate in a tech-driven economy. That’s why Comcast’s Internet Essentials program has been so key. By making low-cost broadband more accessible, Comcast has been a trailblazer in helping to ensure that low-income communities are not left out of the 21st century economy.
Q: You’ve known our company for a long time. How would you assess our progress on diversity and inclusion?
MM: Our relationship with Comcast strengthened and broadened significantly with the purchase of NBCUniversal and the resulting voluntary diversity commitments that the company made in consultation with the NUL and other community-based organizations. We saw the acquisition as a chance to change the way diversity is looked at in America’s corporate boardrooms.
JM: Comcast NBCUniversal’s voluntary diversity commitments and the creation of the JDC were groundbreaking industry firsts. The company moved diversity and inclusion from something “off to the side” to a truly integrated business imperative, and it has transformed its progress.
MM: I agree. Eight years later, it’s clear that the voluntary commitments gave the company internal and external leverage to achieve some important diversity goals regarding its board of directors and hiring, as well as around philanthropy, procurement, and programming. Comcast decided to do something different, and in doing so, the company took a bit of a risk — but I think it was a bold risk. There’s obviously still work to do, but the transformation at the company over the years is evident and documentable.
[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in Comcast NBCUniversal's Our Values in Action: 2019 Report.]