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April 26, 2021

Q&A with John Rice, founder & CEO of Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT)

Q&A with John Rice, founder & CEO of Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT)
John Rice headshot

Walker & Dunlop board member John Rice founded Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) to fight racial and economic disparities by empowering a new generation of diverse leaders. Since 2002, this national non-profit  has served more than 8,000 students and professionals and been a leading source of talent at more than 170 companies, including Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Google, Greylock Partners, PepsiCo, and Target. 

Last year, MLT expanded its reach with Black Equity at Work, a clear and comprehensive Black equity standard for employers. Here Rice talks about this new certification program, how it works, and how companies can get involved.

What is Black Equity at Work and how did the program take shape? 

Black Equity at Work provides employers with the clarity, guidance, and support they need to make tangible, urgently needed progress on racial equity. It’s a certification program, like LEED, and it’s designed to meet employers where they are with an onramp that’s accessible and built around a rigorous plan. 

MLT had been working for nearly two decades to help Black, Latinx, and Native American talent prepare themselves for high-trajectory jobs, and in doing so transform the leadership pipeline. Last year after the death of George Floyd, and as people of color and their allies made it clear that mere statements by corporations were not enough, it was a wake-up call. Employers nationwide realized that they needed help developing practices that widen the road for people of all races.
As racial equity became front and center in the minds of senior executives, we at MLT realized we had to approach Black equity from an institutional as well as an individual level, with a bold, systems-oriented approach. So we worked with Boston Consulting Group and other organizations and looked at a number of standards and certifications to develop a clear framework of what “good” looks like. 

The program launched in November with participant employers such as Amazon, Bain, Moody’s, PNC, Warner Media, and Walker & Dunlop. We’re focusing first on larger corporations to make the most impact in the shortest amount of time. Our goal: help organizations approach racial equity with the same tactical strategy and rigor that they do any other part of the business.

Talk about the gap Black Equity at Work addresses.

One big gap we saw in terms of racial equity for employers is that there’s no clear absolute standard as to what “good” looks like. We also saw a lack of clarity around how to move the needle.

When you’re an executive, and you don’t understand the levers at play in an area, it can be very frustrating. We fill in the knowledge gaps on the “how-to” by advising on business practices such as recruiting, increasing promotion rates, tracking supplier spend, and so forth. The feedback we’ve been getting so far from organizations working on these plans has been very positive.  

What’s involved in the first step of certification?

The first step in the process is a plan—a three-year roadmap in one-year increments for benchmarking, gauging progress, and moving forward.  

Based on MLT’s several years of work with leading institutions on racial equity, our framework focuses on the following five pillars: Black representation at every level, compensation equity, an inclusive and anti-racist work environment, racially just business practices, and racial justice contributions and investments.

We provide white-glove support throughout - working with an organization to develop a baseline and benchmarks and incorporate best practices from other organizations. Because of our extensive experience advising senior management on such tactics for MLT, we have a very clear understanding of the most vital focus areas and how to move an organization forward.

This part of the process alone is incredibly valuable.

How does a company achieve and maintain certification?

After becoming plan-approved, organizations will have benchmarks and a roadmap to feel confident that they are making real progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

They are expected to make progress, and we will evaluate them every year. We will not publish or share scores; certification is about calling organizations in, not out. It’s about getting to thresholds of “good” and rewarding these achievements. 

Talk about why Black Equity at Work is so important.

On a corporate level, even the most forward-leaning white executives who have real conviction about racial equity are still not grounded enough in the drivers of why we are where we are. Narratives still exist that aren’t well-informed, like, “it’s just a talent pipeline issue.” We need to unlearn practices that are disadvantaging people of color and implement practices that support them.

For individual participants, demonstrating a commitment to Black equity puts employers on the right side of history while helping their bottom line: boosting retention and recruitment, improving ESG and credit ratings, and potentially increasing access to capital.

For our nation as a whole, employers are important pathways for pursuing economic and financial stability. If racism persists and people of color are not competing on a level playing field, then everything we’ve said as a country on “here’s how you pursue the American dream” unfolds.

The only way we as a society are going to move the needle on disparities around wealth, access to healthcare, policing, and criminal justice is by removing barriers to economic stability and mobility. Furthermore, institutions have a huge impact on the health of the communities. If they become more diverse, they’ll play a more active role in addressing these issues.

What’s next for MLT?

We’ll be announcing marketing partnerships to help us scale. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, will be promoting us to its members. Over the next few years, we will expand and modify the framework for Latinx and Native American Equity at Work programs to make the certification more comprehensive.

We also realize that we have to reach out to and refine the rubric for smaller, more entrepreneurial organizations that are very important players in the world of wealth creation, like hedge funds, private equity firms, and law firms.

What should readers do next?

The most important thing is to become well-informed about racial equity, as you would any other topic critical to your business, and develop a plan for your organization based on an accurate diagnosis. Approach this journey with the same amount of rigor you do any other part of your business. If you’re interested in starting the process of Black Equity at Work certification, contact us at

Learn more about Walker & Dunlop's commitment to diversity and inclusion here.

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