Lawrence Otis Graham Profile

Lawrence Otis Graham is an authority on diversity in the workplace and the continuing need to rethink the way we view racism and class in the U.S. The Harvard educated lawyer became famous nationwide after going undercover as a busboy to expose racism and sexism at a popular country club. The experience resulted in a cover story for New York Magazine, one of Graham’s fourteen bestselling books – Member of the Club– and a nationwide call to acknowledge and break through the prejudice still present in the country.

Growing up in a wealthy white neighborhood, Graham observed that despite all his family had achieved, neighbors and even his friends still treated him and his family with fear and passive bias.
The experience was part of his motivation when he began a massive research project on the best companies for minorities, a 22-month study of fortune 1000 companies that revealed that even though many had ethnic minorities and women in senior positions they were unable to tap into the same social and professional networks as their white male counterparts. Since then Graham has worked with world class companies like Disney on increasing diversity. Additionally, he has lectured at Fordham University and practiced his law specialty, which covers real estate, land use, and government affairs.

Graham is currently Special Counsel with the Manhattan based firm, Cuddy & Feder. He serves as a TV commentator for a local New York City new channel, a job which keeps him connected to the region’s top government officials. He serves on the Westchester County Police Board.

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    Author and Authority on Diversity

    Lawrence Otis Graham is a nationally known business author and advisor to companies, business associations, and other organizations on diversity and progressive strategies for managing the changing workplace. He is the author of twelve books including the most recent, Our Kind of People: Inside America′s Black Upper Class (Harper Perennial) and The Best Companies for Minorities (Penguin Books), which is the result of his 22-month survey of more than six hundred Fortune 1000 companies and professional service firms. With an introduction by Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Graham’s book examines how organizations are successfully addressing diversity in the workplace.

    A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Graham is on the faculty of Fordham University where he teaches the course Minorities and Women in Corporate America: Case Studies, Profiles, and Issues Facing the Changing Workplace. In addition to his prior books, Professor Graham has authored numerous business articles for such publications as The New York Times, Business and Society Review, New York Magazine, and Executive Citizen. He is well-known for appearing on the cover of New York Magazine twice, after writing the story “Invisible Man: A $105,000-a-year Harvard-trained Lawyer Goes Undercover as a Busboy at Greenwich Country Club.” The article, which examines the attitudes of America’s corporate elite, is being made into a Warner Brothers film, starring Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington.

    A leading expert on diversity issues, Professor Graham has been profiled by Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, Time magazine, and many other publications. Newsweek Japan sponsored a series of his lectures in Tokyo for Japanese business leaders. He has also appeared on the Today show, CNN’s Inside Business, CNNfn, Oprah, and many other programs. His work appears in The Wall Street Journal, The Journal of Workforce Diversity, Business & Society Review, Black Enterprise, Hispanic Business, The Financial Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe. His “Passive Bias” self-analysis quiz was published by Fortune.

    Also a well-respected corporate attorney, Graham has appeared as an on-air commentator for WNBC-TV, CNBC and CNN. Graham has worked at the White House and the Ford Foundation, and sits on the Boards of the Council on Economic Priorities and the Princeton Center for Leadership Training. Graham practiced at the New York firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, and is now of counsel to the firm of Smith, McDaniel & Donahue. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is a contributor to U.S. News and World Report.

    Graham is the President of Progressive Management Associates, Inc, a diversity-consulting firm that offers workshops, seminars, lecture programs, and consulting services to corporate clients and other organizations in the U.S. and Japan.

Lawrence Otis Graham Speaking Videos

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Lawrence Otis Graham's Speech Descriptions

A nationally respected author and commentator on race and ethnicity, Lawrence Otis Graham shares insights on social and racial bias in the U.S. today and how to move past it, particularly in a business setting. Drawing from his experience as a black male in an upper middle class world, he brings an insider’s perspective along with the stories of several other minorities in similar positions – accounts that he has gathered from decades of researching and writing on these very topics.

He has worked with such organizations as Corning, Lucent Technologies, Walt Disney Company, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Dallas Public Schools, Hewlett Packard and United Technologies.


  • Board Members and Chief Executive Officers
  • Line Managers and Supervisors
  • Middle and Senior Level Managers
  • Human Resource Executives
  • Diversity Task Force Committee Members
  • Affirmative Action and Diversity Managers
  • Employees, New Recruits and Interns


Lecture/Discussion on “Using Proversity to Eliminate Passive Bias
First presented by Graham at Harvard Business School and drawn from his book, Proversity (Wiley), this discussion consists of a 60-minute talk and 30-minute question and answer session. It examines such issues as how to recognize and address our own passive bias; Professor Graham’s undercover experience of exposing passive bias at a Connecticut country club where business networks are created; how Proversity gets us to respect differences and find what we have in common; and how to find bottomline economic benefits of diversity management.

Troubleshooting Workshop
Professor Graham meets for a 90-minute trouble-shooting session where he presents the best practices of companies that were included in his book, The Best Companies for Minorities, as well as those of other leading organizations. He presents those companies’ diversity practices as well as his “11 Principles for Good Corporate Diversity” and answers questions that participants have regarding their own current diversity practices and other challenges they face. Strategies for improving recruitment and retention are discussed. Participants are introduced to “The Progressive Manager’s 12 Commandments”.

From Passive-Biased Employee to Progressive Manager: A Story
In this workshop, attendees are given a story and/or a series of stories (taking place inside and outside the workplace) to read and analyze. After participants have worked individually or in small groups, the moderator asks them to give their impressions of the actions taken by certain characters. Professor Graham and workshop participants identify problem issues and offer solutions. This workshop addresses political correctness, traditional networks, affirmative action, employee backlash, fear of those who are different and other issues.

Becoming a Progressive Manager
Based on a 12-part framework that we introduced on CNN, this leadership model shows how to manage work within a diverse organization so that the best is brought out in employees, consumers and an organization’s bottom line.

  • Applying the Techniques of The Progressive Manager
  • Operating in The Progressive Manager’s Universe: A 12-part Framework
  • The Progressive Manager’s 12 Commandments
  • Responding to the Affirmative Action Debate

Reaching the Underrepresented
One of our best-known program areas is based on our 2-year research that led to our top-selling book The Best Companies For Minorities (Penguin Books). The following topics address the well-represented as well as the underrepresented groups in your organization.

  • Handling Gender/Race/Ethnicity/Religion/Age/Sexual Orientation/Disability Issues
  • The Best Practices of “The Best Companies” and How They are Screened
  • Eliminating Subtle Bias that Affects Women, Minorities and Others
  • Establishing Employee Groups that Help an Organization′s Bottom Line
  • Creating a Mentorship Program to Help Underrepresented Groups
  • Tips for Improving Recruitment and Retention of Diverse Candidates
  • 11 Principles for Good Corporate Diversity
  • Diversity Training Strategies that Work

What People are Saying about Seeing Lawrence Speak

Rating Entries

    “Everyone really enjoyed Mr. Graham. Also, he was kind enough to have dinner with our leadership the night before the event. Everyone was very impressed with Mr. Graham and one person even described it to me as a ′home run′.”
    Booz Allen Hamilton
    (Event booked by Speakers Platform)

    “Mr. Graham was very well received – the audience absolutely loved him. So many people approached him after the presentation and at the dinner that evening to talk with him. And I received so many wonderful comments about Mr. Graham even after the legal conference ended. I would certainly recommend him to others as a presenter!”

    (Event booked by Speakers Platform)

    “On behalf of Northrop Grumman Informatin Technology, I would like to thank you for kicking off the IT Sector Diversit Speakers Series. Your motiviating lecture held on September 22nd was truly enlightening. The corporations′s senior management and human resources professionals were inspired to champion the message of inclusion at our workplace and with our colleagues and teams.

    Your message of Proversity was delivered with a passion that comes from real life experiences. Speaker series attendees gained insight on the concept of “getting past face value of people”, as well as techniques to apply towards the commit of inclusion within the Northrop Grumman workforce. You exceeded our expectations.

    Your presentation was engaging from start to finish…I was particularly impressed with the way you were able to target your comments to both the senior management team as well as the human resourcs professionals. Thank you once again for helping us make our event such a wonderful learning experience. We look forward to our continued relationship and working with you and your staff in the future.”
    Lee Karbowski
    Northrop Grumman Information Technology

    “As a follow up to our recent appearance at Fleet′s diversity forum on May 31, I wanted to let you know that the reaction to your speech has been universally good. Your message was entirely on target. Please accept our since appreciation for a job well done.”
    Carolyn Schoenecker
    FleetBoston Financial

    “I would like to extend a personal note of gratitude to you for participating in our 12 Anniversary Award Banquet and helping make the evening a tremendous success. Your role as our keynote speaker for the evening, was inspirational to all individuals present…We received a lot of positive feedback…thank you for your ongoing commitment, time and effort!”
    Pamela Phifer Watson
    Managing Director

    “In my five years here at Y, planning the annual commemoration for the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I have never had the kind of glowing feedback for days following a program that I did following your talk. Thank you again for coming to the 92nd Street Y and making day a truly meaningful one…”
    Jo Frances Brown
    Program Director
    92nd Street Y

    “Thank you so much for participating as a Guest Speaker in the Disneyland Resort “Leadership in Action” Series. On behalf fo the Disneyland University, we appreciate your participation in this program and sharing your Diversity message with our Cast. Thank you for helping make this program a success.”
    Michiko Ogino
    Disneyland Resort

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Books by Lawrence Otis Graham:
    Our Kind of People: Inside America′s Black Upper Class

    Debutante cotillions. Million-dollar homes. Summers in Martha′s Vineyard. Membership in the Links, Jack & Jill, Deltas, Boule, and AKAs. An obsession with the right schools, families, social clubs, and skin complexion. This is the world of the black upper class and the focus of the first book written about the black elite by a member of this hard-to-penetrate group.

    Author and TV commentator Lawrence Otis Graham, one of the nation′s most prominent spokesmen on race and class, spent six years interviewing the wealthiest black families in America. He includes historical photos of a people that made their first millions in the 1870s. Graham tells who′s in and who′s not in the group today with separate chapters on the elite in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Nashville, and New Orleans. A new Introduction explains the controversy that the book elicited from both the black and white communities.

    Order Here

    The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America′s First Black Dynasty

    This is the true story of America′s first black dynasty. The years after the Civil War represented an astonishing moment of opportunity for African-Americans. The rush to build a racially democratic society from the ruins of slavery is never more evident than in the personal history of Blanche Kelso Bruce and his heirs.

    Born a slave in 1841, Bruce became a local Mississippi sheriff, developed a growing Republican power base, amassed a real-estate fortune, and became the first black to serve a full Senate term. He married Josephine Willson, the daughter of a wealthy black Philadelphia doctor. Together they broke racial barriers as a socialite couple in 1880s Washington, D.C.

    By befriending President Ulysses S. Grant, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and a cadre of liberal black and white Republicans, Bruce spent six years in the U.S. Senate, then gained appointments under four presidents (Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, and McKinley), culminating with a top Treasury post, which placed his name on all U.S. currency.

    During Reconstruction, the Bruce family entertained lavishly in their two Washington town houses and acquired an 800-acre plantation, homes in four states, and a fortune that allowed their son and grandchildren to attend Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University, beginning in 1896.

    The Senator′s legacy would continue with his son, Roscoe, who became both a protégé of Booker T. Washington and a superintendent of Washington, D.C.′s segregated schools. When the family moved to New York in the 1920s and formed an alliance with John D. Rockefeller Jr., the Bruces became an enviable force in Harlem society. Their public battle toget their grandson admitted into Harvard University′s segregated dormitories elicited the support of people like W. E. B. Du Bois and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and broke brave new ground for blacks of their day.

    But in the end, the Bruce dynasty′s wealth and stature would disappear when the Senator′s grandson landed in prison following a sensational trial and his Radcliffe-educated granddaughter married a black Hollywood actor who passed for white.

    By drawing on Senate records, historic documents, and the personal letters of Senator Bruce, Josephine, their colleagues, friends, children, and grandchildren, author Lawrence Otis Graham weaves a riveting social history that spans 120 years. From Mississippi to Washington, D.C., to New York, The Senator and the Socialite provides a fascinating look into the history of race and class in America.

    Order Here

    Member of the Club: Reflections on Life in a Racially Polarized World

    Informed and driven by his experience as an upper-middle-class African American who lives and works in a predominately white environment, provocative author Lawrence Otis Graham offers a unique perspective on the subject of race. An uncompromising work that will challenge the mindset of every reader, Member of the Club is a searching book of essays ranging from examining life as a black Princetonian and corporate lawyer to exploring life as a black busboy at an all white country-club. From New York magazine cover stories Invisible Man and Harlem on My Mind to such new essays as “I Never Dated a White Girl” and “My Dinner with Mister Charlie: A Black Man′s Undercover Guide to Dining with Dignity at Ten Top New York Restaurants,” Graham challenges racial prejudice among White Americans while demanding greater accountability and self-determination from his peers in black America.

    Order Here

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