Remembering a Force in Diversity

I heard yesterday morning the sad news of the passing of Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr., who is often (appropriately, I might add) referred to as the “father of diversity.”

I first remember hearing Roosevelt speak at a Society for Human Resource Management conference I attended years ago.  At the time, I thought to myself, “Here’s someone I better add to my Rolodex.” (That should give you a sense of how long ago it was.)  Since then, Roosevelt has become a fixture on my must-call list whenever I need a fresh, independent perspective on topics related to diversity and inclusion.

Color Photo of Dr. ThomasFrom a journalist’s perspective, Roosevelt was a first-rate source. He was passionate about the work he did. What’s more, he never held back in telling you what he really thought.

In our June 2 edition of HRE, which is on the way to the printer, we’re publishing just the latest example of this. In response to a disturbing study on the lack of progress that’s been made on the workplace desegregation front since the passage of the Civil Rights Act study (Documenting Desegregation: Racial and Gender Segregation in Private-Sector Employment Since the Civil Rights Act), he authored an opinion piece for us on the “shamming of diversity.” In it, he lays out, in blunt fashion, how this “sham” came to be and what businesses ought to be doing about it.  (The piece will be posted on our website and featured in print in early June.)

Truth be told, Roosevelt’s wheels were always turning. (We exchanged emails as recently as last week on the latest project he was working on.)  When it came to sharing his perspective, he was as generous as they come.

To be sure, Roosevelt’s impact on the business world is very well documented. He was elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources, has been recognized by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top 10 consultants in the country, was awarded the “Distinguished Contribution to Human Resources Development” Award by the American Society of Training and Development, and was named to HRE’s list of “HR’s Most Influential People.”

But at the risk of this brief tribute sounding a bit like a eulogy, I think his most lasting legacy will probably be best reflected in those he’s been able to touch and influence over the years. I feel privileged to be among them.