In the fall of 2008, with the economy in freefall, a new magazine promoting diversity in the workplace hit the stands. “It was either the worst time or the best time to start a new magazine,” says Fields Jackson Jr., founder and chief marketing officer of Racing Toward Diversity.
Whatever the case, it was a terrible time to sell ads and subscriptions. “We didn’t know if there was going to be another Great Depression,” Jackson says. Even so, he and his backers stuck with the magazine because America’s workforce is overwhelmingly composed of women and minorities. “There was a business imperative to do this magazine,” says Jackson, who majored in economics and philosophy at Allegheny. “The U.S. is competing in a global marketplace. If U.S. business doesn’t use the full talent available, we won’t compete successfully.”
They plunged ahead with stories featuring minority business ventures and interviewed people such as Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League. They profiled famous people who have pushed for equality in America, among them Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and civil rights pioneer Dorothy Height.
Racing Toward Diversity came about through an odd chain of events that began fifteen years ago, when Jackson started a company to produce posters and lithographs of campus scenes for the college market. The company, located in Cary, North Carolina, then diversified into NASCAR art. “All of a sudden, this NASCAR line starts to eclipse what we’re doing for the colleges,” Jackson recalls. “I didn’t even know anything about NASCAR.” But he decided to learn. One thing led to another, and Jackson wound up investing in a minority-owned NASCAR team whose backers included pro basketball great Julius Erving and former Washington Redskins running back Joe Washington.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s classmate, Robert Marchman, was tackling diversity at the New York Stock Exchange, where he was an executive and head of the exchange’s diversity committee. “Robert called and said he wanted to do some- thing to celebrate the committee’s tenth anniversary,” says Jackson, who suggested that they tie the celebration to the bell-ringing ceremony that opens and closes each stock market session. He also suggested they somehow tie it to efforts to promote diversity in NASCAR.
As a consequence, on February 6, 2008, the exchange held a closing-bell ceremony with an unusual mix of characters. Marc Davis, an African American NASCAR driver, rang the bell. Joe Gibbs, the former Washington Redskins coach who owned Davis’s racing team, pounded the gavel that closed the session. The ceremony played widely on the internet—and Jackson decided to capitalize on it. “I said to myself, we’ve got to keep this going,” he says.
A friend and former business partner, magazine publisher Charles Pittman, not only suggested they found a magazine devoted to a range of diversity issues but offered to publish it. And Racing Toward Diversity took off. The magazine has a growing subscription list and advertisers that include the New York Stock Exchange, the PGA, and Toyota. A magazine on diversity in the workplace may lack sex appeal, but it covers an issue business cares about: making money. “Businesses want to thrive and grow,” says Jackson. “Diversity will enable them to do that.”