CEO action needed on diversity and inclusion

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On Tuesday afternoon at NRF 2018, Shannon Schuyler, who holds the title of chief purpose officer for global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, moderated a panel discussion, “Transform Your Culture: Why CEO Action is Imperative to Diversity and Inclusion in the Modern Workplace.”

Schuyler opened the session with a brief history of CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, which was founded in 2017 at the direction of PwC’s U.S. senior partner and chairman. “The position we took,” Schuyler said, “was basically that CEOs need to change what is happening in the dialogue of diversity and inclusion.”

The movement began last June with 175 CEOs; since then, she said, more than 350 heads of companies have signed a pledge to make their employees understand unconscious bias and how they can work to combat it. Joining Schuyler were four signatories to the pledge: Sarah Alter, president and CEO of the Network for Executive Women, Benno Dorer, chairman and CEO of The Clorox Company, Marvin Ellison, chairman and CEO of J.C. Penney Company Inc., and Hubert Joly, chairman and CEO of Best Buy Co. Inc.

“One of the things we want to talk about today is the business case,” Schuyler said. “We’ve been having this conversation about diversity and inclusion for a long time, and when you look at what’s going on, it hasn’t changed. Is the business case not there?”

“The business case could not be any clearer,” Dorer said, “whether you get your information from McKinsey, or the University of Chicago, or from Forbes. It’s been proven that diversity and inclusion lead to faster growth, to higher market shares, to better employee engagement, and to better stockholder performance. It’s clear,” he added, “that we’re living in a troubled time. So among CEOs there’s a recognition that we have an opportunity to work against the bias, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, that exists both in society and our companies, and do something about it.”

To Joly, Schuyler said, “We were talking about the idea that shareholders don’t care about this — that they just want to be sure you’re making more money. And you said absolutely not, that your shareholders want to be a force for good. Is that new, or has it always been there?”

“This is something that we at Best Buy have believed for a long time — that actually, the purpose of a corporation is not to make money,” Joly said. “It’s imperative to make money, of course, but our purpose is to serve our customers, to be a force for the common good. We know a team with diverse backgrounds, experiences and skill sets is going to be more effective, but in the end we see this big gap. As CEOs we have an imperative, which is to act on this, and the good news is, we can. I’m very proud of the fact that at Best Buy 50 percent of my direct reports and 50 percent of our board are women.”

That example notwithstanding, Alter noted that the path of women in the corporate world is anything but smooth. Referring to recent headline-making sexual harassment cases in the media and entertainment industries, she said, “I see that as a symptom. There are not only industries and organizations but cultures that devalue the role of women as business executives. And they devalue the attitudes and behaviors and oftentimes leadership attributes that women may bring to the table.”

“It’s interesting,” Schuyler said, “because some companies try to combat those things — or even unconscious rather than overt, bias — by just saying, ‘Let’s just have a training group. We’ll check the box, and that will be that.’ How do you see taking these programs and actually making them work?”

“What we’ve seen a lot of is what we call bottom-up, where you’re trying to set that woman leader, that minority leader, up for success,” Alter said. “They don’t need to be fixed. They’re not broken. They just need pushing and development and guidance. So we need to keep providing those programs, but then it needs to be top down, too, because it’s just as much the responsibility of the C-suite team to provide the right culture.”

“I’m very lucky and very blessed,” Ellison said, “to have the opportunity to lead a Fortune 500 company irrespective of race or gender. I’m very proud of that, but I’m not arrogant enough to believe I’m the third-best African American executive in the world. I think it screams opportunity — to nurture, to develop, to mentor, to sponsor — to find talent and give them the ability to have a shot at the corner office.

“All kinds of talent, both in ethnic and cultural background and in gender. I’m fortunate to have six female direct reports, three executive vice presidents and three senior vice presidents, and that’s not by accident. I felt it was very important for me to surround myself with strong, influential female executives that could help shape the direction of the company.”

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