Overcoming systemic racism through system engineering



in parts of The United States, using the term “systemic racism” to refer to persistent discrimination against black people has become a political flashpoint. To some ears, it sounds like an attack on the country and the local community. Many states have enacted laws that prohibit, or appear to prohibit, discussion of the concept in public schools and colleges, and even in private workplaces. But Racial Equality Adviser Tencia Boya Robinson The term is used strictly by Eng. When I first heard that phrase, I recalled her quality control training at the Transfer Unit at General Electric Research, in Erie, Pennsylvania, and sure enough, a light went on in her head: The system could be re-engineered. “Oh my God, we can fix this!” I thought. “I don’t think everyone else sees it that way.”

Boyea-Robinson helps businesses, government agencies, and other organizations achieve diversity and equity goals through its advisory firm, CapEQ. In October, her second book on this work, social impact feature, it was published. She is a maid Track to 15/55, an ambitious effort to provide much-needed capital to black businesses across the United States. Since 2018, Boyea-Robinson has been working to assemble a coalition—including financial institutions, grassroots community groups, state and political leaders, corporate donors and charities—to reprogram these companies’ lending and investment systems.


employer CapEQ

nickname President and CEO

Alma mater Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering

Boyea-Robinson helps businesses, government agencies, and other organizations achieve diversity and equity goals through its advisory firm, CapEQ. In October, her second book on this work, social impact feature, it was published. She is a maid Track to 15/55, an ambitious effort to provide much-needed capital to black businesses across the United States. Since 2018, Boyea-Robinson has been working to assemble a coalition—including financial institutions, grassroots community groups, state and political leaders, corporate donors and charities—to reprogram these companies’ lending and investment systems.

Boyea-Robinson grew up in Cocoa Beach, Florida, where her father repaired satellites for the United States air forces And her stepmother did manicures in the family’s living room. In other circumstances, the straight lessons Boyea-Robinson gained in school and the lessons in mechanics her father taught her might have secured a path to a top-ranking STEM university. But her parents didn’t go to college and didn’t push her in that direction. Furthermore, as the eldest, she was expected to help take care of her four younger siblings. She expected to attend a community college until one of her stepmother’s clients led her to set her sights higher.

I attended Duke University‘s Pratt School of Engineeringin Durham, North Carolina, where she earned a dual bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science. The curriculum was grueling, and she had to contend with a constant feeling of being an outsider. But it was more than just academics.

“There are so many things about college culture that my parents couldn’t teach me,” she says. Adding to her initial anxiety was her status as one of the relatively few women in the engineering school—women made up a quarter of the student body at Pratt University—and there were fewer black students enrolled there (about 5 percent).

But when Boyea-Robinson graduated in 1999, she landed a job managing information at General Electric through the company’s prestigious leadership program. Although she continued to worry about fitting in, her career blossomed. In 2003, I headed to Take risks. Nothing can replace experience For an MBA an upward trajectory can give her an extra boost. Then her course changed when she took an internship at a non-profit organization called year up. The organization helps prepare young people, mostly poorer blacks, for entry-level IT jobs at large companies — jobs that warranted their first assignments at GE. “I was that student,” she says, “with different choices and choices.”

Her task was to map the expansion of the Year Up program from Boston to Washington, D.C., or New York City. Boyea-Robinson pitched both. When she graduated in 2005, the nonprofit hired her to open their Washington location. It launched the first chapter in January 2006, and as it built a public presence in Washington, Boyea-Robinson’s work became a model for the organization nationwide, starting in New York later that year. Today, the nonprofit serves 16 metro areas and operates in approximately five more.

In Year Up, Boyea-Robinson begins to hear about systemic racism, the prejudices that people collectively, consciously or not, inject into the many institutions and rules that govern society, resulting in differential treatment of different groups of people. The implications of this discrimination exacerbate inequality – which then reinforces those biases in a kind of feedback loop. Thinking about all of this, Boyea-Robinson concludes that she wants to use systems engineering to address problems of systemic racism on a larger scale.

Since launching CapEQ in 2011, Boyea-Robinson has worked with more than 50 clients to help companies like Marriott And Nordstrom Address the shortcomings of its diversity and fairness. She has also worked with nonprofits and others seeking broader change, including those collaborating on Path to 15/55.

The track takes to 15/55 its premise from Recent research by one of those organisations, Enterprise Opportunities AssociationIt is a business group of non-profit organizations that provide small loans to underprivileged entrepreneurs. The group found that if 15 percent of existing black firms could fund one new employee, it would create $55 billion in new economic activity. But black entrepreneurs have been stymied by the effects of a particularly insidious example of systemic racism. until the sixties, Federal government policies It expressly prohibited blacks from buying homes in white neighborhoods and at the same time decimated the value of black neighborhoods. The result was that most black families were denied the opportunity to create intergenerational wealth on an equal footing with their white counterparts. Even today, blacks are unlikely to seek or obtain a Mortgage. Most small businesses are funded by savings or loans provided they have good credit scores and a home to serve as collateral.

The Boyea-Robinson coalition that has been assembled presses for systemic change on many levels. It pushes bankers and the financial industry in general to confront their lending biases. It also publishes new black business financing strategies to avoid barriers that black borrowers face, such as using credit scores to assess creditworthiness. The group will then rigorously collect data on which strategies work and which don’t post what works. Separately, it motivates changes in government policy to allow these new strategies to flourish.

Boyea-Robinson Path to 15/55 runs as if it were testing a program with its own feedback loop. It begins with building awareness around a specific issue and forging alliances or alignments with like-minded organizations, which then move on to acting as communities of action to implement change.

“Everything we learn from work communities becomes the information we raise awareness of,” she says. And the cycle begins again: perception, alignment, action. These are all unit tests that have become systems tests.”

Boyea-Robinson still encounters resistance to equity financing among bank loan officers. “The way it shows racism in lending is that bankers say this business is not investable,” she says. “Changing the narrative is why so much time is spent sharing reports and stories.”

Supported by a grant of $250,000 from Wal-Mart CorporationIn January, Path to 15/55 launched its first community of work. Piggybacking run The job led Beneficial State CorporationBoyea-Robinson has recruited five financial institutions to pilot innovative ways to underwrite loans, building lasting support within their institutions for the business — which, Boyea-Robinson says, is the only way these changes will last. These institutions are expected to start lending money by the middle of the year. To reduce the risk of losses, Path to 15/55 will make the $1 million it has raised to date available for these loans.

It is teaming up with business accelerators to launch a second business community aimed at helping black entrepreneurs buy existing businesses in corporate supply chains, later this year.

“Being able to do some kind of really engaging work was really exciting,” she says.

This article appeared in the February 2023 print issue under the headline “Tynesia Boyea-Robinson.”

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