There are plenty of reasons to cheer the elevation of Ariel Investments President Mellody Hobson to chair of the Economic Club of Chicago, one of the most prestigious business leadership organizations in the nation.

For one thing, Hobson is among the city’s highest-profile executives, managing a solid investment business while becoming a regular television commentator as well as a philanthropist, giving millions of dollars to After School Matters. Another cause for celebration: When Hobson, 48, takes the club’s top spot from Ingredion CEO Ilene Gordon in July, it will be the first time the baton of leadership will pass from one woman’s hand to another’s. And she will be the second African-American to lead the Economic Club, following in the footsteps of her boss, Ariel CEO John Rogers Jr., who became the first African-American to lead the invitation-only club in 2009.

Diversity makes organizations stronger. Most executives understand this intuitively, but a recent McKinsey study also identified a financial benefit. Call it the diversity dividend: Companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to generate financial returns above their national industry medians—15 percent more in the case of companies with more women, and 35 percent more in the case of those that are less, well, monochromatic.

The Economic Club is a nonprofit, of course, but the value of promoting talent regardless of race or gender still applies. When capable people are recognized and included, we all win. The Economic Club exists to bring business leadership to bear and to foster dialogue on the most important economic and social problems facing our city. And for most of its 90-year history—starting with Lucius Teter in 1927 right up until William Daley’s 2007-09 tenure—that conversation was led by white men. It’s well past time to let a black woman set the agenda.

 While Hobson’s new role reflects how far Chicago’s business leadership has come, it underscores just how far it has to go. That the only two African-Americans to lead the club happen to come from the same company speaks volumes about the need to mentor, promote and cultivate the next generation of black executive talent in this city. That’s a challenge for every Economic Club member, regardless of whether they occupy the chair’s seat.

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