What does it mean to have an inclusive economy? This question was posed during our inaugural Future at Work Leadership Network (FAWLN) convening in Los Angeles. More than 30 thought leaders from across industry sectors joined our call to action to tackle youth unemployment and bridge the opportunity divide for the next generation of diverse talent. Beyond being the right thing to do, there is a business case for why we must act: The future workforce is majority multicultural. Diversifying talent pipelines is essential to ensuring business relevancy and success in the global marketplace.

An inclusive economy reflects diversity across a multitude of facets. It makes equity an imperative and is intentional about tapping into the talent and ingenuity of communities that are historically marginalized and underutilized.

There are more than 5.5 million young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are out of work and not in school. They’re referred to as Opportunity Youth. When we look even closer at these young adults, there is an unsettling trend: they have disproportionately higher unemployment rates than their white counterparts. As demographic trends project a majority multicultural America by 2050, unemployment among young adults of color threatens the stability of the middle class.

We can no longer ignore this pervasive challenge. Understanding the urgency of our economic realities is what inspired LeadersUp to create a national platform for diverse leaders who are committed to upskilling and advancing economic mobility for young adults of color. We launched the network in partnership with PolicyLink at its annual Equity Summit in Los Angeles, a city that has nearly 200,000 Opportunity Youth. Our national co-chair, Angela Glover Blackwell, president and CEO of PolicyLink, led a conversation about the importance of equity in the workforce. She shared that for many young adults of color, simply getting a fair shot at a career is their biggest barrier to employment.

Susan L. Taylor, editor-in-chief emeritus of Essence magazine and founder of the National CARES Mentoring Movement, led a conversation on the importance of uplifting our most vulnerable community members and the pivotal role mentorship can have in improving the lives of Opportunity Youth.

After the launch meeting, network members participated in our community forum, where we highlighted the work being done in Los Angeles to increase access to opportunity for at-risk talent. It included a diverse panel of representatives from the business, political and advocacy sector. Jan Perry, general manager of L.A.’s Economic Workforce Development Department, moderated a discussion on how public-private partnerships are the key to igniting local workforce systems to be a vehicle for prosperity. Expert panelists Shane Goldsmith, president of Liberty Hill Foundation; Abigail Marquez, director of Workforce Development for Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office; and Bob Wolpert, president of Quality Custom Distribution and a LeadersUp board member, discussed the importance of reconnecting Opportunity Youth to the economy.

After a day filled with rich dialogue and planning, I was inspired by the solutions, hope and unwavering commitments made by attendants. Among them:

  1. Activate industries to diversify their talent acquisition strategies to include Opportunity Youth

  2. Skill at scale to ensure more young adults are prepared to take advantage of economic opportunities

  3. Measure what matters to track the return on investment for businesses and communities

  4. Redesign our workforce development system to generate more pathways for young people.

Alliance among diverse leaders willing to demonstrate their commitment to a more equitable and inclusive workforce is critically important. It symbolizes for the Black and Latinx young adults that there are leaders who believe in their capabilities and value them as people. It broadens their realities of what is possible, which ultimately enriches our achievements as a country.