Wednesday, March 1st 2017


The Business Relevance of Diverse Leadership

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.

Does Diversity Help Women More Than Minorities?

When it comes to issues of race, gender, and diversity in organizations, much has been published about the problems, but less about what does work — what organizations can do to create the conditions in which underrepresented groups can reach their potential and succeed. That’s why Evan Apfelbaum, of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, collaborated with Ray Reagans, also at MIT Sloan, and Nicole Stephens, at the Kellogg School of Management, to study what can be done to increase performance and curb the disproportionately high rates at which diverse groups leave jobs. The researchers studied the public diversity statements of 151 big law firms in the U.S. to understand the relationship between how organizations talk about diversity and the rates of attrition of associate-level women and racial minority attorneys at these firms.

They discovered two fundamentally different ways that diversity statements seek to appeal to the stigmatized groups they target. One appeal is to differences and how differences are important.  They call this the “value in difference” approach. The other approach is an appeal to equality and fairness irrespective of differences. They call this the “value in equality” approach. In fact, the researchers’ data suggested that women and racial minorities not only responded differently to these two diversity approaches, but that each group responded in virtually the opposite way.

To read more about this study, see the article by Apfelbaum published in the Harvard Business Review.

The Truth About Race In The Workplace

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Amid the controversial events in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, and Charleston, Americans are expressing concern over racial discord at a rate nearly unseen since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. Every night, it seems, the evening news informs us of another tragedy – a beating, a shooting, a death. And all too often, these disturbing incidents reflect racial conflict: White Policeman vs. African American or Trump vs. Mexican Immigrants. Social media is abuzz with chatter about the degree to which prejudice is at work. Dinner tables and back porch barbeques pulsate with opinions about who’s right and who’s wrong. But the discussion is mostly among races. It’s rarely between races. And the one place where we spend most of our time – at work – is noticeably bereft of dialogue. As white and black employees (Latinos, Asians, Indians, Native Americans, Gays and Lesbians, too) we avoid asking questions of each other or holding constructive conversation about our differences. Sometimes we even avoid each other altogether, and that hurts our ability to work together effectively. In the end, as communication deteriorates, productivity suffers.

Earlier this year, I sat with three influential professionals who manage race and diversity initiatives in their organizations: Steven Barth, a partner at the law firm of Foley & Lardner, Dorri McWhorter, CEO of the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago, and Steve Pemberton, Chief Diversity Officer for Walgreens. The lively and refreshingly candid panel discussion, held at the Metropolitan Club of Chicago and co-sponsored by the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, raised several important truths about race in the workplace and the critical importance of making time to address it. The consensus agreed to by blacks and whites in attendance: every workplace should hold such discussions. Below is the edited transcript:

Roger Crockett: It’s 2015. We’re a long way from the Civil Rights Movement and the Selma March for Voting Rights, but are race relations really better today than 50 years ago?

MetClub_Selma-Chicago2015_Ferguson1Steve Pemberton: If a really creative movie director were to juxtapose some of the images from Selma – confrontation on Pettus Bridge and the like – against what we saw in Ferguson (picture to right) you really wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. I think that we have become a society retreating from the challenges of our time. We have become at times distracted. The 1960’s generation was unequivocally not distracted, and they knew the challenges of their time, and they were willing to sacrifice it all. Not for themselves, because a lot of times they didn’t think it would manifest itself in any means that will change during their lifetime. They were doing it for future generations. But we have become this purposely segregated society. What was once legal segregation has now become voluntary segregation. We retreat to the world in which we live and operate, retreat to our sanctuary. And so we are looking at the challenges of our time almost from a distance, almost as if that has nothing to do with me.  And we build these walls around ourselves and we are surprised when we see all this extraordinary civil unrest. When I think of younger generations, I would answer the question [are we better off?] with an unequivocal no. It is not better, not better for them.

Crockett: What about for women? Women have a unique challenge (more…)

Selma’s Inspiration: Biz Leaders Spark Dialogue About Race

I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you … [but] we, as a people, will get to the promised land.  -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, days before his death in 1968.
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It was a vision to see, a Kingian dream come true: On March 7th, 2015 — 50 years after peaceful protesters trying to cross a bridge in Selma, Ala. were bloodied by billy-club wielding police and choked by tear gas — Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, led a bipartisan, biracial march celebrating the conviction and triumph of those who marched so courageously in 1965 for the right to vote.

The anniversary celebration of that famous 1965 march was a joyous occasion. It commemorated the effort that led to the successful passing of the Voting Rights Act into law. An estimated 40,000 people, mostly African-American, gathered on a sunny, warm day in Selma. Many reportedly lined up as early as 6:30 a.m. to make sure they got a glimpse of the commemorative activities. Proud attendees waved posters of President Obama and Dr. King.

But this was more than a nostalgic celebration of long-ago events. As one journalist wrote, it provided “a moment to measure the country’s far narrower, and yet stubbornly persistent, divide in black-and-white reality.” Amid the recent conflicts in Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island, NY, Americans are expressing concern over racial discord at a rate nearly unseen since the 1960s. (more…)

How to Fix Silicon Valley’s Race Problem

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What’s missing from this image of four young white men and one Pakistani-American? Well, women for one thing. Blacks too. Not to mention Hispanics. But the sad truth is, the promo pic for HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” the sitcom about a handful of engineers who write code for a killer app and launch a startup company in the heart of techdom, is actually true to life.

By now, you’ve likely heard about the problem: Internet companies in Silicon Valley, and now I’m referring to the region in northern California where many of the world’s most innovative and dominant tech companies call headquarters, are remarkably bereft of ethnic and gender diversity. At LinkedIn, for instance, just 2% of the work force is black, and 4% is Hispanic. Google is 70% male, with 91% either white or Asian. The percentages at Facebook and Apple are similar. When it comes to executive leadership positions or representatives on boards of directors, the figures get far worse.

With a record of inclusion this shabby, the time has come for action. (more…)

Change in the C-Suite: Kaiser’s CEO Declares Diversity’s Value

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For a black man in corporate America, it takes courage to stand up to your boss when it comes to issues of race. But that’s exactly what Bernard Tyson did. During one of those somewhat awkward discussions about diversity with a high-ranking, white senior executive at Kaiser Permanente, the executive told Tyson, “I don’t see you as a black man. I see you as a smart individual.” Sounds reasonable enough. But that didn’t sit well with Tyson, then an up-and-coming leader at Kaiser. He was pleased this Kaiser heavyweight recognized his intelligence, but he was disappointed the senior leader dismissed an essential part of who Tyson is: a black man. “I was insulted,” Tyson recalls. “He insulted my heritage.”

In Tyson’s mind, he is unabashedly black, and proud of an African-American culture that, in large part, shapes how he thinks, sees the world, and relates to other people. To disregard that, however benign the intention, is the sort of color blindness that hurts corporations. So, Tyson didn’t hold his tongue. “Wait,” he said. “I am a black man!” He paused and explained to this high-ranking executive that it was important to see the value Tyson’s race and heritage bring to the workplace—the value all black employees bring, precisely because the lens of race gives them a different perspective.

Tyson’s bold stand was risky, but it paid off. In fact, the conversation led to an all-day retreat with a diversity facilitator, who helped Kaiser managers learn to leverage the totality of people on their teams. Today, almost 10 years after that conversation, Tyson has risen to Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente. The $56 billion health care provider employs a diverse workforce of 175,000, nearly 60% of which are ethnic minorities and 13% are African American. About 42% of the members of the leadership team are non-white and 25% are African American. Seventeen percent of the leadership team is made up of women.

But those numbers are rare in corporate America. Kaiser is technically a member-owned non-profit, but compares in size to a Fortune 100 company. In that sphere, Tyson is one of just five black CEOs. Worse, there are fewer African American, Latino, and Asian American CEOs leading major companies than there were back in 2007. (more…)

Executive Leaders Talk Diversity and Driving Change

I like to say that leadership is about more than a title. It reflects experience, intelligence, an understanding of the business landscape, but also of human nature. In the 21st Century, with the diversity that now is America and our global environment, leadership requires something even more.

I’m reminded of what the poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “We need the whole society to [arrive at] the symmetry we seek.” Emerson saw the world as all leaders should. When he looked into a crowd, he saw not a crowd but a collection of individuals. He saw each person as limited and diverse in what and how they perceived things.

Every other year, Chicago United, a non-profit which promotes multiracial leadership in business, selects a new group of executives who make exceptional candidates for corporate board directorships because of their outstanding performance and leadership. The latest crop of Chicago United Business Leaders of Color see the world the same way that Emerson did.  And, they understand what early American President John Quincy Adams said: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”  I recently moderated a discussion on leadership, diversity and driving change with four of these exceptional business leaders . Check out the lively exchange in the edited video above.

Chicago United Business Leaders of Color panelists (above video, from left to right):

Cathy Peng, Chief Business Development Officer, Ethertronics

Ana Dutra, Chief Executive Officer, Mandala Global Advisors

Sunil “Sonny” Garg, Senior VP and Chief Information and Innovation Officer, Exelon

John Trainor, General Manager and Publisher, Hoy Newspapers

To watch clips from our discussion, click the video above.

Burden to Bear: NFL’s Sherman Balances Ego and Insecurity

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By Wilfred J. Lucas

Will LucasBy now, everyone who watches football has seen or heard about Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s rant after an acrobatic block of a pass at the end of the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.  And as you might expect, everyone has an opinion about him personally and as a football player.  The most ugly comments seem to be the result of people evaluating his actions through the complex prism of race: A black man with talent who stands up and proclaims to the world that he is the best at what he does.  Instead of comparing him with the traits that have made all successful Americans great, some have given to calling him a “Thug.”

My hope in writing this article is that everyone learns something, even Richard Sherman.  Sherman possesses the things that have made him successful and even models the traits that gave birth to our nation.  Maybe it is not an accident that the Sunday, Jan. 27 issue of the New York Times had an article about Richard Sherman and another one in another section about “Success.”  I saw a real connection. (more…)

Microsoft’s Diversity in Leadership Will Lead to Innovation

Nearly lost in the coverage of Microsoft’s Feb. 4 announcement of a new CEO was the simultaneous, though subordinated, announcement of a new company Chairman: John W. Thompson. In combination, these two appointments are extraordinary management moves—perhaps more visionary than any tech industry C-suite reorgs since the dot-com bust more than a decade ago.

How so? Well, the fact is, Microsoft has done something unprecedented among digital companies. Suddenly, it has the most diverse leadership tandem in big-time techdom, with the top two execs being people of color: Thompson, the African-American Chairman, and Satya Nadella, the Indian-American CEO.  Now, you might be thinking that their race ought to be irrelevant. What’s significant is these executives’ ability to perform, to do as promised and transform Microsoft from a fading tech star into a newly competitive light in the galaxy of cloud and mobile computing.

satyanadella_large_verge_medium_landscapeTrue. But if Microsoft is to be supremely competitive again, it will need to find growth in new markets, markets far from its traditional mainstream hunting grounds. Most of the growth in mobile computing, for example, is happening overseas in places like Nadella’s homeland of India. He studied Electrical Engineering at the Mangalore University before moving to the U.S. to study computer science at the University of Wisconsin. He’s been with Microsoft for over 20 years now, but just in his mid-40s, he’s young for a chief executive.

By picking Nadella the Microsoft board seems to recognize the company needs a fresh perspective with a closer connection to the current and next generation of technology users. And make no mistake, Nadella’s Indian upbringing and education allow him to innately see the world through the eyes of international consumers. As Nadella has rightly pointed out in interviews, success at Microsoft depends on the collective power of its various teams. But he has also said that he is very much a product of his experiences and background. Indeed, the worldly, India-influenced vision and instincts he brings to the corner office will likely bring a much needed spark to Microsoft’s innovation. (more…)

Diversity: Top Latino CEOs You Should Know

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Latinos account for 16.7% of the U.S. population, and by all accounts, they are a growing and influential group. Even so, Latino executives make up just 1% of CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies. And worse, not one of these corporate leaders is a Latina. This doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of talented and qualified Latino leaders in corporate America. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, which started September 15th, we highlight five Latinos already in the CEO’s seat, and two Latinas who could step up to take over as a Fortune 500 chief.

george_paz1. George Paz, CEO, Express Scripts: In 1998, Paz joined Express Scripts, now the largest pharmacy benefit management organization in the United States, as senior vice president and CFO. He became president in 2003, was named CEO in 2005, and was elected chairman of the board the following year. Paz has led the company through three major mergers and has achieved earnings growth of 30% a year. Formerly, he was a partner of Coopers and Lybrand, LLP (now Price waterhouse Coopers) from December 1995 to December 1997. Paz was born in the United States. His grandfather came from Mexico and settled with his family in Collinsville, MO.

ralph-de-la-vega2. Ralph de la Vega, CEO, AT&T Mobility: de la Vega assumed the CEO role for AT&T’s largest growth engine in 2007. The company is now the nation’s second largest wireless carrier. From October 2008 to January 2012, de la Vega also served as President and CEO for AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. In addition to the company’s wireless business, he led the company’s local consumer wireline operations. From 2004 to 2006, he served as COO of Cingular Wireless, a joint venture of SBC and BellSouth telecom companies. Before joining Cingular de la Vega served as president of BellSouth Latin America. De la Vega was born in Cuba before immigrating to Miami as a young boy. (more…)