We’ve been through a lot over the last year, overcoming significant challenges that none of us saw when we celebrated the New Year on Jan. 1, 2020. That’s what we do in Colorado: We overcome challenges, we come together to support each other and find solutions to our state’s most pressing issues. 

That’s why U.S. News & World Report has ranked Colorado as having the No. 1 economy in the nation and consistently ranks our cities among the top five places to live, with Boulder holding No. 1 and Denver No. 2 for the last two years.

Adeeb Khan and Hollie Velasquez Horvath

Even before the pandemic, we saw that not everyone has been able to access the economic and social opportunities we are working so hard to create. We have witnessed an increased number of higher-paying jobs in Colorado, and overall wages are growing faster than wages in rest of the country. Yet, of people in the Denver metro area who make the average annual wage of $63,080 or higher, only 35% are women, even though they make up 49.9% of the population. 

Additionally, Black and Latinx metro area residents represent only 12% of people making the average annual wage or more, even though they are 25% of the population. And, fewer than half of Black Coloradans and 54% of Hispanics or Latinx own their homes, compared to nearly three-quarters of white Coloradans.

Statistics like these caused us to ask a lot of questions. We wanted to understand the reasons for these disparities, and, most importantly, what the role of employers is in addressing them.

The business community, under the leadership of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, launched Prosper CO in 2019 to do just that. 

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Prosper CO is a collaboration of leaders from the private, public and nonprofit sectors. These leaders are committed to ensuring that as we continue to grow our economy, we do so in an even more inclusive way, creating even more opportunities for Coloradans and building an even more sustainable economy for all in the long run.

After months of research and deliberate discussions, the Prosper CO Leadership Council is focused on three areas of work:

  1. Move people of color and women into higher paying jobs and create more of those jobs. 
  2. Ensure more people can start and grow businesses and remove the barriers to small business ownership for women and people of color. 
  3. Address the housing affordability challenge for our region by making homeownership within reach again, allowing more families to begin to build wealth.

Now, we’re calling on employers regionwide to take actions that support these areas of work. In addition to longer-term policy and outreach work, we’ve also identified 10 things that all employers can do today to start removing barriers and build a more equitable workforce. 

  1. Map all the jobs in your organization based on wages, race, gender and career path potential to discover what actions you can take to address disparities and communicate and position all employees to move into jobs with better pay and benefits.
  2. Develop a scorecard that would allow you to compare against other employers in the region, set goals to address any inequities and track your progress. Hold executive leadership accountable to the set goals and measurements.
  3. Take steps to increase the diversity of your applicant pools. Be intentional.
  4. Show your commitment to fair chance hiring. 
  5. Engage in best practices to retain diverse teammates in your workplace.
  6. Ensure you offer the most critical benefits that help employees begin to prosper.
  7. Provide training opportunities and career tracks to ensure lower-paid employees have the opportunities and supports needed for advancement.
  8. Diversify your supply chains and contracts by engaging more women- and minority-owned companies to bid on work with your organization. Set a goal with a percentage of contracts that are represented by women and minority-owned companies.
  9. Volunteer to mentor and support small business owners and entrepreneurs.
  10. Help your employees address their housing needs by educating yourself and teammates. Engage in conversations with elected and appointed public officials and neighbors to build more housing that is affordable.

These actions are just a start. Prosper CO is also pulling together resources and guiding employers on how to approach each of these, and we want to hear from you. What are you doing in your organization to create opportunities for your employees and how can Prosper CO help?

Join us in making these top 10 changes and learn more Wednesday, March 3 at a virtual event with Harvard economist Raj Chetty to learn about the real disparities that exist in workforce, entrepreneurship and housing in our region. We’ll also discuss the actionable steps employers can take to increase equity and opportunity.

Networking begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday followed by the program from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

It’s going to take all of us, but we can create the very best economy in the nation that works for all Coloradans – regardless of race, ethnicity and gender. 

When we put our minds and hearts toward making this state better than when we started, we have achieved it. We can do it again.

Adeeb Khan is vice president of corporate social responsibility and executive director of the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation, Hollie Velasquez Horvath is senior director of state affairs and community relations at Xcel Energy. Both are members of the Prosper CO Leadership Council.

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