Rauner sips chocolate milk, says diversity tastes good

Rauner: diversity "tastes really good"

ILLINOIS (WCIA) -- Republican Governor Bruce Rauner sipped chocolate milk from a glass on stage during a Black History Month celebration event in Chicago on Wednesday to showcase his support for diversity in corporate America. 

"It's really, really good," Rauner proclaimed, punctuating the demonstration with an awkward toast "To diversity." The illustration was the brain child of Tyronne Stoudemire, a Vice President at the Hyatt Corporation. 

Stoudemire enlisted the governor's help in holding a glass while he poured white milk into it, a visual aid intended to depict the white men in corporate America.

"If you look at any corporate website, and look at the leadership team, you see all white men, a few white women and just maybe an Asian in technology," Stoudemire told the crowd.

As the chocolate syrup quickly settled at the bottom of the glass, Stoudemire said it was symbolic of the struggles minorities face trying to climb the corporate ladder.

"It’s not that organizations are not diverse," he said, "but when you look at most organizations, diversity sits at the bottom of the organization. You don’t get inclusion until you actually stir it up."

Achieving diversity and inclusion in state government has proven harder than stirring a glass of chocolate milk for the first term governor. In May of last year, Rauner policy advisor Jimmy Odom  submitted a stinging resignation letter citing frustrations with the administration on that precise issue. 

WCIA obtained a copy of the resignation letter under the Freedom of Information Act. 

Odom, who was tasked with improving relations and expanding business opportunities for minority contractors, wrote to his boss at Central Management Services that "needs of the minority business programming for the state isn't important to the administration."  

Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold responded in an email that "Governor Rauner and this administration are firmly committed to diversity, inclusion and providing opportunities to minority business owners." 

In a phone call, Odom says he harbors no ill will toward Rauner personally, but rather grew disenfranchised with what he described as general apathy and inefficiencies in state government. When a sensible solution presented itself, he said political opposition would routinely interfere to deny the other party a political victory. He described the challenges as petty differences born out of little more than spite. 

"We want to say we're an inclusive state, but we're not. The numbers don't show it," Odom said. "I don't feel like they really care. Democrats, Republicans, none of them. It's their party. It's their agenda. It's nauseauting." 

Odom left the Rauner administration and took a role as Director of Inclusive Entrepreneurship for World Business Chicago. He also launched an upstart cryptocurrency company called Bit Capital Group. Before working in the Rauner administration, he launched WeDeliver, an online delivery service for local merchants.

Ironically, his business got an early assist from 1871, the tech incubator founded by one of Rauner's political challengers J.B. Pritzker who has had his own stumbles with race and politics.

Odom's company WeDeliver won a competition and received three months of three rent at the Merchandise Mart along with one-on-one mentorship with 1871 advisory board member Troy Henikoff. 

"I don't believe I would've had the same trajectory if it weren't for the purposeful assemblance of people and stakeholders to make that happen," Odom said about his encounter with 1871. "Maybe I would've gotten here eventually, but I don't know if that [opportunity] wasn't here." 

Launching a business in a competitive digital delivery arena was difficult enough on it's own, but Odom says he has experienced other more subtle challenges along the way too, hurdles he fears are based in discrimination or unconscious bias

"If I was a white male, Chicago would be incredible for me to get capital," Odom said. "It's not." He says WeDeliver met the same fate as other minority led tech firms in Chicago when it got zero financial support. He sold that company to a larger competitor before taking the job in the Governor's administration.

He hopes to see more people commit to having the difficult conversations of addressing racial and economic inequities, in particular in the corporate corridors of finance and technology -- conversations that might have just become a bit easier to broach, even if it's at the expense of a goofy governor who toasts diversity with a glass of homemade chocolate milk. 

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