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WSJ News Exclusive | CEOs Pledge One Million Jobs for Black Americans

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A coalition of more than 30 chief executive officers from companies including

Merck


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& Co., International Business Machines Corp. and

Nike Inc.


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are backing a startup that will connect employers with Black workers.

The startup, called OneTen, aims to create one million jobs for Black Americans over the next 10 years and has so far recruited over 35 company backers and raised more than $100 million in seed funding.

Merck CEO

Ken Frazier,

one of the startup’s founders, said the nonprofit organization will focus on helping Black Americans without four-year college degrees, but with high school diplomas and other certifications, find and retain “family-sustaining jobs,” or those earning $40,000 or more depending on the region.

Nonprofits, community colleges and credentialing organizations will provide training to help them be successful in business, and the CEOs who have joined the effort are committing to hiring these workers.

The initiative is an acknowledgment by the CEOs that the efforts they undertook in recent years haven’t made a meaningful difference for Black Americans, according to Mr. Frazier. He said the killing of

George Floyd,

an unarmed Black man, in police custody in May and the ensuing protests prompted corporate leaders to re-examine their initiatives and join forces.

“What brought people together is that they looked at our country and said, it’s this generation of CEOs who don’t want to pass this down to the next generation,” Mr. Frazier, one of four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500, said in an interview.

Black people make up 12.4% of the U.S. population, but 8% of professionals, a number that has stayed steady since 2013, according to a study by the Center for Talent Innovation, a nonprofit research group. Black people hold 3.2% of senior executive positions, the group said.

Mr. Frazier said nearly 80% of working-age Black Americans don’t have a four-year college degree, making it a structural barrier for meaningful employment at many companies. He said OneTen’s goal isn’t only to connect companies with those workers, but also improve how companies are hiring and developing people with four-year college degrees, so that they can address the lack of Black representation in middle and upper management. “All of us would agree that what we’re doing now isn’t working to the extent that we want it to work,” he said.

The killing of George Floyd on May 25 sparked protests over police brutality and systemic racism. WSJ’s Darren Everson spoke with black professionals to discuss their experiences and what changes they’d like to see. Photo illustration: Adele Morgan

Ginni Rometty,

executive chairman at IBM and another founder of the startup, said companies will share their best practices and insights to ensure existing Black workers are promoted. “We want to avoid the leaky bucket,” she said. “As we bring people in, we don’t want them going out the other side.”

Ms. Rometty said companies will re-examine jobs to see whether they truly require a four-year college degree, calling it a “skills-first approach.” She noted IBM, where she was CEO for eight years, once required a college degree for all its jobs, and now 43% of jobs don’t require a four-year degree. “This is the hard work of going through every job and removing unnecessary barriers,” she said.

Entry-level work in health care, business and finance operations, cloud-computing, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing could fit the bill. “These are jobs that in almost all cases have upward mobility,” she said.

Ms. Rometty said OneTen plans to announce a CEO soon and set up offices in cities across the country. “Think of us as a startup and we will keep expanding and expanding,” she said.

The companies backing OneTen include finance firms like

American Express Co.


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and

Bank of America Corp.


BAC 1.09%

, retailers like

Target Corp.


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and

Walmart Inc.,


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and product manufacturers including

Whirlpool Corp.


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and

Johnson & Johnson.


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Write to Khadeeja Safdar at khadeeja.safdar@wsj.com

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