While Trump Says “You’re Fired!” Diversity & Inclusion Executives Say, “You’re Hired!”
“The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppose.” Frederick Douglass
Since Frederick Douglass was being “recognized more and more” during Black History Month, it’s appropriate to start this blog with his quote about fighting for positive change, a fight that can make America even greater than it already is.
As the value of diversity and inclusion (D&I) faces attack in today’s acrimonious political climate, a range of business leaders in Boardrooms across the country continue to push forward with confidence on D&I. These leaders know that D&I strategies improve their corporations while advancing the American values we all hold dear. Such strategies are not about hiring unqualified “minorities” to fill “quotas,” but rather recruiting elite professionals of color to move the needle on corporate innovation and profitability.
Recent research from the Peterson Institute for International Economics shows that having more female leaders in business can significantly increase profitability. The 2016 study revealed that an organization with 30 percent female leaders could add up to 6 percentage points to its net margin. This in-depth study analyzed results from approximately 21,980 global publicly traded companies in 91 countries from a variety of industries and sectors. Additional research shows that diverse and inclusive teams have 22% higher productivity than homogeneous teams; and ethnically diverse leadership teams have 35% higher financial returns.
As UBS Global Chief Economist Paul Donovan recently observed, “President Trump’s decision to fire the acting U.S. attorney general caused equity markets to weaken. Large US companies are starting to position themselves as defenders of diversity. Diversity and tolerance are not just morally good, they are also good for profits.”
American executives are defending diversity and inclusion, not only for business benefits, but also to protect our shared American values. One of my favorite quotes is by Newt Minow: “Ideas last longer than people.” I firmly believe that the longstanding America ideals of equality, opportunity and inclusion will endure beyond this moment in time. I’m given hope by today’s forward-thinking executives, who believe, as I do, that hiring should not be based on the color of one’s skin, but on the content of one’s character and his or her subject matter expertise. Such executives believe, as I do, that while someone might speak with an accent, they do not think with an accent.
I am heartened by the fact that more and more companies are realizing their commitment to innovation and growth through diversity and inclusion. These corporate leaders have found ways to build models of diversity and inclusion that benefit both the bottom line and America’s principles. Some of these committed visionaries include:
· Slack CEO Stuart Butterfield, who has made diversity and inclusion a top priority as Slack has exponentially grown.
· Ernst & Young Chairman Steve Howe, who believes the firm’s top-down commitment to D&I is key to the firm’s success. Howe has dedicated an enormous time, capital and resources to the cause. Under his leadership, the representation of minorities in EY’s partner/principal rank has nearly tripled since 2000.
· Senior executives at Google are leading numerous initiatives to diversify the company’s executive ranks and pipeline. As one example, Google’s Code Next program cultivates future generations of black and Latino tech leaders, in part by bridging the yawing digital divide between teens of color and their white peers.
· Shutterfly CEO Chris North can picture the future, and it’s profitable, diverse and inclusive: four of Shutterfly’s nine board members are women and Shutterfly’s independent board is similarly diverse.
· Executives at behemoth pension plans CalPERS and CalSTRS have stated that more diverse corporate boards will lead to better-run companies and increase the value of equity portfolios.
The next four years can prove to be an opportune time for CEOs who are similarly committed to diversifying their boards. An EY study shows that composition of US boards is poised for change, as a substantial portion of directors are long-tenured or approaching retirement. Companies in the asset management and real estate sectors appear to have the most directors preparing to exit the board.
While the narrative of inclusion is often heard from voices without a seat at the table, leaders like the ones mentioned above know that true diversity and inclusion upholds American ideals and the promise of the American dream for all. Such executives are seeking to create inclusive cultures by inviting more diverse professionals to the table and learning from and leveraging those different perspectives. They know that real inclusion means working to create cultures in which all viewpoints are welcome and all voices are valued, which enables companies to:
· identify risks and opportunities that might not otherwise be seen;
· attract, retain and innovatively engage the best talent; and
· deliver inventive approaches to complex problems
Shortly after the travel ban was first issued, many leaders in Silicon Valley made their voices heard. The Mercury News reported that many spoke out against the President’s executive order on immigration. Apple CEO Tim Cook, in particular, wrote an email to staff stating that “Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do. I’ve heard from many of you who are deeply concerned about the executive order issued yesterday restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. I share your concerns. It is not a policy we support.”
America’s competitive advantage in the global economy depends on our ability to leverage the differences of our people. Do we want to build an even greater and more just America, or do we want to turn inwards and ignore the talent among us?
In these anxious and uncertain times, I often find it difficult to sleep. What keeps me awake most is a recurring vision: a memory of that piercing scene from Pursuit of Happyness, where Will Smith is huddled in the bathroom, a father struggling to protect his son. I keep mentally replaying that scene and thinking about liberty, equality and that young father’s dream of America. As light dawns, I often begin to consider my own American dream, forged in the crucible of my immigrant grandparents’ experience. They fled overt anti-Semitism in Europe and came here to face the same bias, often of a subtler sort. Yet my grandparents continued to hold dear to the dream of equality, opportunity and religious freedom in America, and passed on to me their idea of a better life through the American values of hard work and sacrifice.
In these days of rising anti-immigrant sentiment and increasing anti-Semitism, America’s values do not rest in a politician, but in the men and women of our country. Our moral conscience is not directed by an elected official, it is guided by the enduring American values that will outlast him. Make no mistake: for those who believe that our American ideals will endure, it is time to take action to ensure they are advanced. To quote Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” We are the leaders we are seeking.