CEOs Pledge to Enhance Diversity
A new CEO-led initiative aims to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. But will it actually "lead to dramatic changes across organizations," as some experts suggest?
By Julie Cook Ramirez
Diversity and inclusion initiatives have become ubiquitous for the majority of American businesses, with companies unveiling a slew of programs designed to reduce bias and enhance respect and appreciation for differences in ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education and religion. Despite some pretty hefty investments, critics frequently brand such programs as well-meaning but misguided.
A new initiative aims to change that, by taking a truly top-down approach to advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. More than 150 CEOs from some of the world's leading companies have signed on to the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion initiative, pledging to take action to cultivate a workplace where diverse perspectives and experiences are welcomed and respected, where employees feel encouraged to discuss diversity and inclusion, and where both successful and unsuccessful actions are shared across organizations.
Led by a steering committee of CEOs and leaders from Accenture, BCG, Deloitte US, The Executive Leadership Council, EY, General Atlantic, KPMG, New York Life, Procter & Gamble and PwC, the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion effort grew out of a recognition that strong business outcomes are correlated with diverse teams and inclusive work environments. It was bolstered by a report from the Center for Talent Innovation, which found that two-thirds of employees are uncomfortable discussing race relations, while 29 percent feel it is never acceptable to speak about experiences of race-based bias at their company. Recognizing the potentially catastrophic impact not only on business, but on society at large, the steering committee set out to encourage other leaders to set competition aside and work together for the greater good.
"We are living in a world of complex divisions and tensions that can have a significant impact on our work environment," says Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner at PwC and chair of the steering committee for CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion. "CEOs across the country understand this isn't a competitive issue, but a societal issue, and together, we can raise the bar for the entire business community."
Each signatory has committed to taking the following steps to increase diversity and foster inclusion in their respective organizations and the larger business community:
* Continue to cultivate workplaces that support open dialogue on complex and somewhat difficult conversations about diversity and inclusion,
* Implement and expand unconscious bias education, and
* Share best known -- and unsuccessful -- actions.
At Radnor, Pa.-based Lincoln Financial Group, where President and CEO Dennis Glass was one of the early signers of the pledge, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Lisa Buckingham believes the commitment will help break down the "perceived wall" that often prevents CHROs from having productive conversations with their counterparts in other organizations.
"This pledge makes it easier to pick up the phone and say, 'My CEO signed this. Yours did, too. Can we have a quick conference call?' " says Buckingham. "We can share a lot of our successes and best practices . . . and we are super excited to hear from our colleagues in other industries [about] what really works."
That focus on transparency sets this initiative apart by the many others that have preceded it, according to Art Langer, professor and director of the Center for Technology Management at Columbia University and chairman and founder of Workforce Opportunity Services in New York. That aspect gives him hope the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion initiative will prove beneficial in terms of evoking change.
"Without being committed to having open and honest dialogue surrounding the concepts of diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias, there is no way we can move forward with developing solutions to overcome the workplace issues that are tied to them," he says.
Executives at Marsh & McLennan Cos. in New York are frequently asked to sign on to various initiatives. The company is extremely selective about making such commitments, ultimately passing on most of them because "we feel that many similar kinds of commitments wont make a big enough difference or we're not convinced they will actually do what they set out to do," according to Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Laurie Ledford. When it came to the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, however, Ledford could tell it was different from the moment she first heard about the initiative.
"It felt like organizations doing things, not because it's legislated or mandated, but because it's the right thing to do," she says. "It also made a lot of sense to us because of the self-directedness of it, the way it positions the actions, and the sharing of what's working and what's not working. It's very direct and simple and actionable."
While Ledford stresses that the firm does not engage in such activities "for how it might look on the outside," she feels the public visibility of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion may provide a boost to Marsh & McLennan's recruiting initiatives.
Likewise, at Lincoln, where Buckingham hopes the commitment will not only enhance the pride of its current workforce, but also draw more diverse candidates to the company, which averages 300 openings each month. Furthermore, Buckingham believes the initiative will accelerate thinking and discussion around diversity and inclusion and expand to yield an even greater impact. Leslie Mays, a partner specializing in talent and diversity and inclusion for Mercer in New York, says the initiative has the potential to become a leading movement that could lead to dramatic changes across organizations.
"Anytime there are strong, clear messages from the chief executive ranks, action and attention follow, says Mays. "The collective power of so many influential business leaders signing this pledge can stimulate renewed attention and health competition in areas such as market leadership, corporate identity or reputational enhancement."
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