Monday, August 21st 2017


Corner Office: Diversity Means Bringing ‘Whole Self’ To Work

Brooks_Carolynn_OfficeMax-sCarolynn Brooks is Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for OfficeMax, the $7 billion office supply company expected to close a merger with rival Office Depot by year’s end. Brooks joined OfficeMax in 2001 as Vice President of Human Resources, Staffing & Diversity. Before arriving at OfficeMax, she worked in sales and sales development at AT&T and MCI. At OfficeMax, Brooks has substantively grown the diversity initiative, including the creation and 2008 launch of the company’s Associate Resource Groups, which were developed to help promote broader understanding and appreciation of diverse experiences and perspectives among OfficeMax employees–from Latinos to those with disabilities. OfficeMax now has 10 such groups. Brooks originally wrote the article below for all of OfficeMax’s 22,000 associates (37% of which are minorities). Here is an edited version of her thoughts, from “the corner office,” on the importance of diversity. 

By Carolynn Brooks

OfficeMax aspires to create a workplace and culture where everyone feels they can “bring their whole self to work” every day. By creating an environment where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and where your talents and skills are valued, you can feel as engaged and productive as possible. Who you are matters!

In my role as Chief Diversity Officer, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with associates who are concealing portions of their identity fearing they may be misunderstood, or choosing to downplay talents because they feel it may not be appreciated. Each of the associates I have coached to “be yourself,” have eventually flourished. They feel more engaged in the business and they’ve become an integral part of their team.

Your work is a culmination of your history and who you are. Your past work experiences, personal experiences, education, culture and other dimensions of diversity allow you to do your best work. Businesses are stronger when we leverage the incredible passion and creativity of our diverse workforces. If you feel you have to leave some part of your professional or personal self at the door to survive (and thrive) in your work, you feel less confident in who you are and what you do. When that happens, it can be a source of frustration and job dissatisfaction.

The theme “Bring Your Whole Self to Work” is an opportunity for our managers to think about how they can engage and leverage the skills and talents of individual team members. Understanding and acknowledging what each associate brings to the table will make them feel appreciated, supported and motivated to excel. Things like learning disabilities, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or cultural backgrounds enhance our culture, and make us who we are.

To avoid disengagement, I encourage all business professionals to take a minute to think about the attributes they leave at home, and let’s bring all those attributes to work–every day.

The March on Washington Highlights Gap in Unemployment

The “Dream” has been what has lasted. King’s dream–so eloquently and powerfully uttered 50 years ago, that black kids and white kids would one day join hands as sisters and brothers–that vision is what has lasted. And thankfully, happily, his dream of an integrated American society has indeed come true.

But during this celebrated anniversary of King’s speech, let’s not forget that he and his colleagues in the fight for Civil Rights marched for more than a social dream. Yes, the Movement’s marchers sought social equality and the same human freedoms for all Americans. But in addition, they sought economic advancement, and in particular, greater employment opportunities. In 1963, the unemployment rate was 5% for whites and 10.9% for blacks. Thus, the official name of the march was “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” (Images from 1963 and 2013 are below.)

Yet, here’s the tragedy: Today, a cavernous gap still exists between the unemployment rate for whites and the rate for blacks. Currently, unemployment is 6.6% for whites and 12.6% for blacks. In other words, the offspring of yesteryear’s marchers–for whom the original March was designed to create opportunities for–remain disproportionately on the periphery of the American workforce.

I’m so pleased our President addressed the nation on the anniversary of King’s “Dream” speech. But while President Obama spoke to America’s young and old, its black, its white, its people of every race, gender and creed, I hope that it’s our business leaders who are listening most attentively. It’s the chief executives and chairmen of America’s major corporations, the partners and managing directors of its big banks and law firms, the titans of industry and entrepreneurship who ought to take seriously the President’s message that much work is left to be done. These executive leaders should carefully heed King’s words from 50 years ago:

“This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy … it would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”

Wouldn’t it be productive, if CEOs were to ask, What can I do? What can my company do to provide more jobs to people of color? Now, I do realize that businesses face their own obstacles to expanding employment. Our education system lags others in the world, our access to broadband isn’t what it should be. Our government tax code stings. Still, with the billions that many corporations make, the question remains: What can they do?

As happy as I was to see the turnout to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington, I wish the front lines of this new-age march were led by CEOs–the chiefs of America’s biggest companies, such as Wal-Mart and Exxon and Google. I know, that’s not realistic. (Remember, I’m dreaming.) But that would be progress. And I bet, actually, that would have made Dr. King smile.

Diversity: Why the Trayvon Trial Matters in Corporate America

With reporting & writing by Sherry Clayton

Trayvon Martin’s death and the George Zimmerman trial that followed launched the nation into some pretty heated discussion about race. It has been awkward, difficult, even divisive at times. But constructive talk about race is important. Talk about racial profiling is important. Talk about hurt feelings and anger are important. The verdict in the Zimmeran case, and the subsequent emotion that swept the nation, demonstrate that America is far from being a post-racial society. More of us have to do what President Obama attempted to do in his recent statements: help foster education and reconciliation.

That’s why I am reminded of a recent event in Chicago on the subject of race, diversity and leadership. We often call Chicago “windy,” or refer to its “big shoulders,” but what makes this city that I live in great is its diverse population. It is a place where a variety of people – African Americans, Irish, Polish, Italians, Asians, Indians, Hispanics and Native Americans, women and men, gay and straight – live and work alongside one another. These groups don’t always mix without incident (yes, occasionally there’re violent incidents) but we coexist, learning from each other, having fun with each other, inspiring each other.

The problem is that Chicago’s leadership, much like America’s, doesn’t typically reflect this grand assortment of people. (more…)

Diversity: Why Denying Gay Workers Hurts Everyone

When professional basketball’s Jason Collins came out recently, acknowledging that he is gay, it was a significant and symbolic statement—another step in social progress. President Obama has boldly declared his support of gay marriage. The military has lifted its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy”. The Boy Scouts of America has voted to end its ban on openly gay youth. Now, as Gay Pride Month concludes, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 26th that married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits and the court also effectively restored the freedom for them to marry in California. Despite all this, there’s one place where progress continues to lag: the workplace. In the cubicles and construction sites across America, many people still feel they can’t be honest about who they are. In fact, recent surveys confirm a disappointing statistic: About half of the college-educated, gay and lesbian workforce is still in the closet.

Why? Many gay people remain paralyzingly fearful of the consequences of coming out. After all, it is still legal to fire employees in 29 states just because they are lesbian or gay. And in 34 states transgender people can be legally fired. So it’s no wonder why lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) workers worry about their professional fate. They worry about being ostracized by their peers, or being denied promotions. They fret about the possibility of losing valuable customers, clients, and suppliers. “Gays only come out at work if they feel safe, and feel that they belong and that they can achieve,” explains Laurence Boschetto, who is gay and the former CEO of Draftfcb, a global advertising and communications agency.

Here’s why this is a dangerous situation: Nearly two-thirds of respondents to a 2012 survey of American workers by Manpower subsidiary Right Management, said they were not happy at work.  Stats on the number of LGBT people in the American workforce are hard to track, but the Williams Institute, a think-tank devoted to LGBT research at UCLA, recently estimated that nine million Americans—or nearly 4% of the total population—identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. No doubt, a considerable portion in that group consists of working Americans. Well, if you consider that some 2 million U.S. workers continue to quit their jobs every month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, then a fearful and frustrated contingent of LGBT workers only adds to the number of people compelled to bolt. The fact is, some 73% of gay employees who feel forced to keep their sexuality a secret are likely to change jobs in the next three years, according to a 2011 study by the Center for Work-Life Policy.

Those who don’t look the other way understand it’s a problem that contributes to the continued flatness of the U.S. economy. (more…)

Video: Facebook’s Sandberg On Too Few Women Leaders

In Chicago recently, Sheryl Sandberg was holding court with a handful of women professionals during a private reception of the Economic Club. Within minutes, she would be whisked away to address some 1,500 additional executives who were gathered Thursday, March 28 in the Chicago Hyatt’s grand ballroom. What were the chances that I (a man) could get her attention—even for a few moments, when she was so immersed in conversation with these women? I approached, careful not to bombard my way into a group clearly bonding over shared female experiences. Sandberg deftly turned her attention toward me, somehow not offending these women, while also welcoming me. She smiled warmly and extended her hand. We shook and then talked momentarily about leadership and diversity before she was tugged away by officials carting her to her next destination.

The obvious occurred to me: Sandberg is about equal opportunity. I was an interested person whose gender was irrelevant. Yes, her emphasis is on equal opportunity for women. Her popular new book, Lean In, is focused on gender imbalance in the workplace and society overall. She spoke to us in Chicago, as she often does around the country, about things we can do to address this imbalance, such as fair and equitable mentorship and sponsorship of women at work. So, it would be disingenuous to ignore me, even as Sandberg spoke among a group of women. That would be hypocritical for a person whose message is based on the importance of equality. I was impressed. For me, Sandberg joined a list of extraordinary and personally influential women, who have become effective leaders: My mother (a high-school principal), my wife (a supply chain executive), two of my managers (one at BusinessWeek and another at The Oregonian, who were among the best I’ve ever had). We need more women like them in leadership roles. To understand Sheryl Sandberg’s take on why, check out the TED video above  … and  lean in!

Diversity: Black Businesses Stand the Test of Time

In 1972, when Al Green topped the R&B charts with “Let’s Stay Together” and Black Americans were defining contemporary style with wide lapels and even wider bell bottoms, John H. Johnson set a mark of his own. The founder of Johnson Publishing Company, which published the monthly lifestyle magazine Ebony, built what was the first and only black-owned building along Chicago’s renowned Michigan Avenue. That 11-story tower, with its distinctive latticed exterior and vibrant interior design, became the symbol of success in black business nationwide. Ebony is no longer published in that building, but the Johnson Publishing empire lives on, now led by daughter Linda Johnson Rice.

That’s worth celebrating. After all, let’s not forget that some 50% of businesses with fewer than 500 employees fail within just five years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Two-thirds go under within 10 years. To borrow from the autobiography written by its founder, Johnson Publishing is “succeeding against the odds.” This year will be the company’s 71st. Neither Ebony nor Jet, Ebony’s weekly sister magazine, have quite the same the influence they once had. They each have been reconstituted and repackaged in an effort to contend in a finger-snap-fast digital age. Meanwhile, the company’s Fashion Fair Cosmetics business, a prestige cosmetics brand for people of color, continues to thrive across the globe.

Indeed, the only way to last in this ever-shifting business environment is for a business to remake itself. To keep the doors open for 20 years or more, it’s required that businesses adjust. In Chicago alone, several have adapted with the times. Besides the Johnson Publishing business, there’s Oprah Winfrey’s famous Harpo Productions, founded 27 years ago in 1986 and now producing TV shows via its recently launched OWN network. Also, Ariel Investments (formerly Ariel Capital Management) remains the nation’s largest black-owned mutual fund after 30 years. Capri Capital, a global private equity real estate investment firm with over $3.7 billion in assets, is celebrating 20 years in the business—the real estate business! And Larry Hollins, founder and chief of executive search firm, The Hollins Group, is enjoying his the 25th year of business.

Hollins started his business in March of 1988, while he was in his early 40’s, with just three employees, including himself. He’s employed 62 people over the years and currently has 12 on staff. It’s those people that he credits for the company’s success. “I always felt I had to have people smarter than me,” he says. “I would be driven by what they knew, and they would be motivated by me. That combination made it work.”

Here are snapshots of a few more major black-owned businesses across the country that have stood the test of time: (more…)

Diversity: MLK’s Counsel Discusses Race and Business

Clarence Jones is a Scholar in Residence and Visiting Professor at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research & Education Institute at Stanford University, and Visiting Professor in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of San Francisco. Jones is perhaps most famous for his tenure as speechwriter and counsel to Martin Luther King from 1960 to 1968. But he also has enjoyed a distinguished career as a lawyer and Wall Street banker. In 1967, Jones joined investment banking firm Carter, Berlind & Weill, where he partnered with Sanford I. Weill and Arthur Levitt, Jr., and became the fist African-American Allied Member of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

Jones, a trusted friend to Dr. King, assisted King in the drafting of his celebrated “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., August 28th 1963. The speech is commonly regarded as one of the finest in American history. In the 2011 book Behind The Dream-The Making of the Speech That Transformed A Nation, Jones writes the story of the thrilling weeks leading up to the great event as the Movement battled the clock to bring the impossibly complicated March on Washington to life. Jones is also the co-author of the 2008 book, “What Would Martin Say?”  Before leaving his home for a series of speaking engagements over the extended MLK holiday weekend, the inspirational Jones spoke with me about politics and business, at times seeming to channel Dr. King, as his voice boomed with passion. Here are edited responses to five questions I asked about President Obama, diversity, business and Wall Street.

1. The nation’s first black president has begun his second term. What would Dr. King say about that?

Jones: There’s not question in my mind that he would have expressed great pride. He would have viewed this as an indication of the core values of the Dream of America. One of the things that was so enduring about Dr. King was that he was not naïve. He had a real political sense but also biblical sense of the country. He never doubted for one moment that the overwhelming majority of white Americans were fundamentally decent. No matter how compelling or fair our cause was on the merits, there was no way that blacks were going to impose that viewpoint on an entire population. We would only see fundamental change when whites understood that it was in their self interest. So he would see Obama’s election as an indication of that. Dr. King might not say it, but there is no question that Obama’s election was made possible because of the leadership and the work that Dr. King did to help transform America. He enabled America to redeem itself and reclaim its soul.

What politically occurred in 2008, and reoccurred in 2012, was that the American people were asked to participate in a referendum on race in America. It wasn’t put on the ballot that way: Are you in favor of improved race relations? But the voting for Obama was the closest we’ve gotten to a national referendum on race in America. Remember, Obama got a [clear majority] of the Jewish vote and a majority of the women’s vote!

2. Some criticize the President for a cabinet that is not diverse enough, and for not serving the black community enough. Your thoughts? (more…)

Diversity: CEO Succession Needs More Inclusion

John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems is a strong leader. He’s guided Cisco, global maker of networking and telecom gear, through the dot-com bust, the recent economic crisis and intense competition. But I wish I could have spoken to Chambers before he declared his succession plan to Bloomberg on Tuesday, September 25.  For that matter, I wish I had a word with outgoing Radio Shack CEO James Gooch, who was asked Wednesday, September 26, to step down immediately.

Both executives appear to have forgotten the value brought by significant swaths of the consumer market: The communities of color here in America and across the globe. How could Chambers, who I know to be a smart man who believes in the power of diversity, announce a CEO succession plan without a single Latino or African American among the top candidates for his job? And, if you ask me, Gooch might very well have kept his job if he had focused more aggressively on serving consumers of color in the U.S. and abroad.

In an age in which business is global and growth almost invariably depends on reaching under-developed markets—from inner-city America to sub-Saharan Africa—it’s stunning to me that so few companies update their strategies to take advantage of the opportunity these communities offer. It’s not just Cisco and RadioShack, but even Google and Apple and Wal-Mart (I could go on) can do much better. (more…)

Diversity: The New Women of Augusta Aren’t Quite Enough

You likely know by now that on August 20, Augusta National, home to the Masters golf tournament and one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world, admitted former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore into the hallowed club. The two women became the first female members to gain admittance since the club was founded in 1932.

As an avid golfer myself, who counts playing Augusta among his bucket-list activities, I’m happy for these women, each themselves quite passionate about the game. Heck, I’m even happy for Augusta, which will benefit from the presence of two whip-smart and successful women with strong opinions. I doubt there were any special terms of engagement, other than the financial obligations that come with exclusive membership. But here’s where my pipe dream starts:

I wish Debra and Condi, especially Condi, had placed demands on Augusta for the benefit of their membership. Condoleezza Rice is arguably as accomplished as any current member of Augusta. Sure, the roster of members is said to include Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, American Express chief Ken Chenault, former Citigroup CEO Sanford Weill, and scores more big-time execs. But even if you disagree with her politics (as I do) Ms. Rice was, in fact, Secretary of State—not to mention national security adviser and the youngest person ever to be provost of Stanford University. Condoleezza Rice’s connections extend well beyond American borders to the corridors of influence in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and so on.

My point is that it’s a privilege for Augusta to have a black woman with such tremendous access. She can indeed open doors for the club. So, call me high, but in exchange for her access and acumen I wish Condi had demanded Augusta create a few programs that might help grow the next Condoleezza Rices and Lorena Ochoas, for that matter. (more…)

Diversity: How Major League Baseball Hits & Misses

I’m disappointed in Chicago’s baseball teams.

Yes, it’s partly because the Cubs have one of the worst records in baseball. And, sure, I wish the White Sox would find a way to attract more fans (and a more diverse array of fans) to the ballpark.

But the biggest reason I’m disappointed is this: Between the two squads, there’s only one African-American player, Orlando Hudson of the Sox (and he’s been riding the bench since the team acquired Kevin Youkilis to play third base).

It’s not just the Sox and Cubs. Today, only about 8 percent of MLB players are African-American, compared to 19 percent in 1995.

So, sure, I’m disappointed, because I love the game, and I want to see teams that reflect the racial composition of my city. But, at the same time, I’m not here to cry racism, because here’s the irony: Even as African-American participation in baseball has fallen, the sport is more diverse than ever. The number of Latin players is at an all-time high, and Asian players are growing in number, too.

Off the field, baseball scores again: The business of baseball is more diverse than ever and offers an example other industries ought to emulate. (more…)