Monday, January 22nd 2018

The Business Relevance of Diverse Leadership

January 30th, 2017 in Diversity by

Last Spring, not long after Xerox Corp. announced that then-CEO, Ursula Burns, was stepping down from the CEO’s seat, I sat with Billy Dexter (left), a partner at executive search giant Heidrick & Struggles, lamenting the paucity of women leaders and leaders of color in corporate America. As of June 2016, only five of the Fortune 500 CEOs were African-American, while just 21 of the CEOs were women—down from 24 in 2015. Representation of women and people of color on corporate boards is similarly sparse. Dexter and I sat shaking our heads in a 49th floor conference room in Heidrick’s downtown Chicago offices, where the vista of Chicago’s towering skyscrapers impressed, but from where the horizon for women and people of color in corporate leadership seemed bleak. Despite an American and a global population growing more diverse by the day, despite the prodigious buying power of women and people of color around the world, despite the proven advances in innovation and performance that come from greater inclusion, the lack of inclusion at the top of the world’s biggest and best companies baffled us. Dexter has spent the better part of a career working in the diversity field. So, it was with years of pent up frustration that he asked, “Does corporate America really want to diversify its C-suites and boardrooms?”

Our conversation resulted in an article Dexter published to address corporate America’s disturbing lack of diversity at the top, and most importantly, to prescribe ways that the problem can be fixed. The following is an excerpt:

Every day I see leaders in politics, sports, and entertainment wrestling with issues of diversity in ways that the business world is not. In politics, our 44th president was a black man, and our 45th was nearly a woman. Issues of immigration reform and racial equality are front and center. In our major sports, we have regulations such as the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires NFL franchises to interview candidates of color when hiring for top jobs. In entertainment, influential leaders—from the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to actors such as Jennifer Lawrence—are campaigning for greater diversity on the big screen. In these segments of society, there seems to be an understanding that the demographics of their audience are shifting and they need to keep pace.

There’s no better example of how our world is changing than the transformative landscape of social media, which has been characterized by huge surges in use by people of color around the world. Twitter and Instagram, for example, are more popular among black and Hispanic Internet users than among Caucasian users.1 “We’ve built a platform that gives people across the world a voice,” says Twitter’s executive chairman, Omid Kordestani, whose journey as a young boy from the streets of Iran to the boardrooms of Silicon Valley has taught him a thing or two about the need to be heard.

So, if #BlackLivesMatter on social media and black lives, Hispanic lives, and female lives matter in sports and politics, would anyone argue that they don’t matter as much in corporate America? Why are women and individuals of diverse backgrounds still underrepresented in the C-suites and boards of the biggest companies in the world?

Surprising as it sounds, many executives fail to grasp how diversity is relevant to meeting their day-to-day responsibilities. Time for that to change … To read the full article, click The Business Relevance of Diverse Leadership.