Time to plow new ground in professional services sector

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I have always said that perception is reality. Let’s say, for instance, you are an African American accountant with your own accounting firm. You could be one of the best accountants around. But, because of racial stereotyping, you may be unable to

I have always said that perception is reality. Let’s say, for instance, you are an African-American accountant with your own accounting firm. You could be one of the best accountants around. But, because of racial stereotyping, you may be unable to significantly grow your business, create jobs and build wealth.

Don’t believe it? Research bears it out. Last week, the Chicago Urban League released a study that examines the challenges unique to African-Americans in the professional services sector, one of the primary sources of job creation in the Chicago area.

The study, "African-Americans Navigating Chicago’s Professional Services Sector: Facing Challenges, Seizing Opportunities," was released last week at the Urban League’s second annual Economic Summit at the Federal Reserve Bank. Among the study’s findings – one of the key barriers to African-Americans succeeding in the professional services sector is the perception that they are not as qualified as their white counterparts.

As Chicago prepares to take advantage of the opportunities that will come with $10 billion to $20 billion in federal economic stimulus and the prospect of a 2016 Olympic Games, the obstacles facing African-Americans in the professional services sector must be addressed.

Although our study found Blacks were underrepresented in professional services, Black-owned firms still enjoy a decent amount of capacity in the sector. I’d say professional services should be seen as low-hanging fruit to create jobs for African-Americans.

In Chicago, professional services firms account for nearly 40 percent of all companies. In good times, the sector provides 30 percent of jobs created in the entire Chicago region.

I suspect that part of the reason professional services have been under the radar is because wealth creation among this group is taken for granted. This job sector includes a broad range of highly skilled careers that rely on expertise, including accountants, attorneys, public relations professionals and IT consultants.

For decades, in Chicago’s African-American community, the fight to win access to good-paying jobs has been waged primarily in the construction sector. And while it’s true that a journeyman in a unionized construction job can earn upwards of $70,000 a year, construction isn’t the highest-paying industry – professional services is.

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