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1998 Speeches

Harry C. Stonecipher

President & COO

The Boeing Company

"A Place to Stand: Reaffirming Affirmative Action From a Market-based Perspective"

National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME)

Summit on the 21st Century Work Force

Washington, D.C.

June 16, 1998

"Give me a lever . . . and a place to stand . . . and I will move the world."

So said Archimedes.

There are many kinds of leverage -- not just physical or mechanical, but moral and social, personal and political, financial and economic. Every one represents a means by which the few become capable of lifting the many.

That is something that Dr. George Campbell and others who serve this organization understand very well. You have demonstrated your mastery of the concepts of leadership and leverage again and again over the past 25 years.

The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering was founded in 1974 following an event like this one at the National Academy of Engineering. It began as a coalition of leaders from government, academia and business who saw a need for positive action in creating greater opportunities for minorities inside the profession.

Tonight is an occasion for celebrating a quarter of a century of progress under NACME's leadership. It is also a time for rethinking old strategies, for brainstorming . . . and for considering new challenges.

Let us begin by recognizing how far we have come . . . and how far we have yet to go.

In 1974, African American, Latinos and American Indians made up a grand total of one percent of the engineering workforce. One percent!

Today minorities account for about 10 percent of all Bachelor of Science and Engineering graduates at U.S. colleges and universities.

No fewer than 6,700 out of roughly 70,000 non-Asia minority engineers today obtained their degrees with the help of NACME scholarships.

By any yardstick, there is still a great shortage of people from minority groups within the engineering profession. NACME is reaching out to groups that make up 28.5 percent of the population and a third of the birth rate. Notwithstanding the progress that has been made, less than six percent of the engineering workforce of today comes from these groups.

Some people would say: What is wrong with that? Should every profession, every career path, precisely reflect the population distribution?

In his address to the NACME Forum last year, Dr. Campbell addressed that very question. He pointed out a crucial difference between the relatively small number of minority engineers and -- as a counterpoint -- the small number of white male basketball players in the NBA. There is a clear "legacy of exclusion" on the one side. Whites have had every opportunity to compete in basketball from grade school on up.

Let me add a couple of thoughts from my own perspective.

As the president of engineering-based company that is one of this country's largest exporters, I know that I cannot afford to compete with one hand tied behind my back -- and that is the situation when we as a nation conspicuously fail to tap much of the intellectual and creative potential of large segments of the population.

We need great engineers, and we need to draw them from every group. Engineering is problem-solving... and creativity... at a high level. To get the best results, we must have the clash... the interplay... and the resolution... of many different viewpoints and perspectives.

Second, as someone who first went to college on a "Grandma scholarship," which is to say, on the savings that my grandmother had accumulated as a school teacher in Tennessee hill country, I know something about the value of an engineering or science degree (mine was in physics) to someone who comes from a less-than-affluent background.

I skipped two grades and graduated from high school at age 16, but I was two years behind some of my original school mates in graduating from college -- as a result of a four-year interval in which I worked as lab technician and went to summer school and night school.

A degree in engineering or science is a bootstrap that eliminates poverty by pulling up multiple generations of people. Among my friends who are engineers, I can think of a number who worked their way through school, but none who were unable, unwilling, or less than totally dedicated, to putting capable children of their own through college or even graduate school.

Like many of my friends, I was lucky. I grew up in a family that prized books and learning. From first grade on, I went to schools that were rigorous, disciplined and, in their own way, caring. Every child in this country should have those advantages. But we all know that is, emphatically, not the case.

The $64,000 question is: What are we going to do about it?

The original coalition that NACME began with in 1974 is still intact -- and, indeed, bigger and better than ever. We must take advantage of that. Right here in this room, we have a plenitude of resources . . . comprising minority engineers who have been there and done that, and leaders from academia, business and government who retain the ability to act as powerful access providers.

Today, we see a continuing backlash against affirmative actions programs in courts and legislatures around the country. Already we have seen a sharp decline in minority engineering enrollments in California due to the impact of Proposition 209. At Boeing, we are strongly opposed to any measures that reduce the national commitment to hiring and promoting people from minority groups. Boeing is among the companies that have stood up and asked to be counted in opposing a negative initiative of this type in the state of Washington.

At the same time that we do battle against a variety of measures aimed at rolling back affirmative action, we should recognize that today's world is awash with new possibilities for progress. If there is going to be less push on the legislative and judicial side in support of greater participation by minorities, then there can be . . . and there must be . . . more push coming from business and industry.

Companies everywhere are looking to become more creative and entrepreneurial. Surely we can apply more of the same kind of thinking in accelerating the recruitment and development of minorities in engineering and other fields.

That is certainly what we are trying to do at The Boeing Company. We are taking more and more of a results-oriented approach versus the old way of making uncommitted funds available for scholarships and grants. We should all look for the highest possible Return on Investment on money spent in this area.

We are tying Boeing scholarships more closely to summer internships with the clearly understood goal of having the inside track on hiring outstanding graduates. We see these scholars and interns as an important part of our future in 10 or 20 years time.

In addition to supporting NACME with $640,000 in giving over the years, we are active with NACME in a wide variety of projects aimed at school reform and insistence on high academic standards for all students at the K-12 level. Each year we bring NACME scholars into our company to work side by side with Boeing engineers.

We have close working relations with 16 Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Institutions. In addition to providing more than $250,000 in annual scholarship support to the HBCUs, we are moving into new and promising growth areas in our relations with them..

For instance, at our Phantom Works advanced research and development center, we are outsourcing more than $600,000 a year, or nearly 5% of our annual government research dollars, with HBCUs. This includes a total of $200,000 in contract awards over the past two years to Tennessee State University and Central State University for doing advanced modeling work to assist Boeing in the development of lean design and manufacturing processes.

This is a win-win-win situation. It helps us. It helps the schools. And it helps the students. And it brings all three of us into a working partnership that takes on a life of its own, leading to new opportunities and projects.

One of the areas where you see the worst under-representation of minorities is in doctoral engineering programs, where they account for just two percent of all doctoral candidates.

Can we do something about that? You bet we can.

Now we are preparing to award contracts of as much as $50,000 to individual students at HBCUs that they will be able to take with them in applying for admission in masters and doctoral programs at Stanford, MIT and other prestigious universities. In going forward in their studies, these students will continue to do work for us in such areas as development of advanced sensors or solid state electronics. We intend to grow this program to eight or nine students a year.

Those are some of the things that we are doing at the Boeing Company. I expect that many of you have exciting programs of your own, and I look forward to discovering more about them. There should be no patents on good ideas in this organization.

There are many things we can do to put new drive and impetus into all the things that NACME stands for.

In a sense, it is payback time for American business. If, back in 1974, NACME and its supporters in the business world had a lever . . . and a place to stand . . . it was due to the Civil Rights movement.

American business has never properly recognized the debt we owe to the Civil Rights movement. This is something that goes beyond diversity and inclusion . . . important as they are. It goes to the heart of our ability to think and act in new and better ways.

Concepts such as empowerment and self-directed work teams have roots in the Civil Rights campaigns of the 50s and 60s. So, too, does the basic, activist idea that big organizations are capable of large-scale change; and that people, even within the bowels of a big organization, can determine their own destinies.

In closing, then, I would like to quote the eloquent words of Martin Luther King.

As he put it so well, "The greatest progress we have made... and the greatest progress we have yet to make... is in the human heart."