“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” -Martin Luther King
I have just discovered over 150 such genuine leaders who are about to make history when they unleash the mighty power of inclusiveness across the entire business community. The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™, which will officially be unveiled today, is destined to transform corporate America.
I recently had the immense privilege of speaking with three members of the steering committee of this grand enterprise, which represents the largest CEO-driven commitment pledge ever. Tim Ryan of PwC, Ronald C. Parker of The Executive Leadership Council, and Julie Sweet of Accenture all gave generously of their time and spoke passionately of the pledge: to work — collectively — to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. During each of my conversations, I was overwhelmed with hope as we discussed the genesis of the program and the rapid pace with which it has become a reality.
It all began with an idea. The same month that Tim Ryan was named U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner of PwC in July of 2016, three shocking shooting incidents had just occurred over the course of three days in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas. Out of this trauma, and the divisions it underscored, a long-gestating idea finally crystalized. Diversity had always been a passion of Tim’s — and of PwC’s. But Tim believed that, as the CEO of a professional services firm, he had a responsibility in this regard not just to his own company, but beyond its walls. His idea was to bring this vision straight to the CEOs of other major American corporations and appeal to them directly to join him on his mission. And to ask them to do so in a very concrete way: by explicitly acknowledging that, with their leadership roles, they had an inherent responsibility to do more to tackle the discrimination that still lingers in the workplace. Tim’s vision was that, having thus set the tone from the top — that is, from the C-suites of some of the nation’s largest and most recognizable corporations — this commitment would one day extend to the leaders of all businesses, big and small.
The steering committee was assembled and the massive outreach began — across industry sectors, to partners and competitors alike — expounding the group’s conviction that a diverse workforce produces the best performance and seeking buy-in. An ambitious, unprecedented and groundbreaking initiative, to be sure. But in the event, they found that Tim’s idea, once articulated, was so compelling that it virtually sold itself. To date, there are over 150 CEO signatories onboard.
Three goals were established: (1) providing a trusting workplace with open dialogue; (2) implementing and expanding unconscious bias education; and (3) sharing experiences with respect to both best practices and what has not worked. Easy to say, perhaps, but without encouragement from the top down, nearly impossible to achieve. Now, from the 150-plus CEOs signing on, that encouragement is official — and very public. And why not? They have recognized that providing it — and working together to achieve these goals — will not only improve the lives of their employees, and ultimately society as a whole, but will enhance the strength of their companies. In short, it’s every CEO’s dream - the proverbial “win-win.”
In addition to Tim, I had the opportunity to speak with two other steering committee members who have been involved since the movement’s inception. Ron Parker, president and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council, an organization devoted to the development and increase of global Black executives and leaders, has devoted his career to the power of inclusive leadership. Ron explained that he was thrilled when he heard Tim’s idea, not long after Tim had attended The ELC’s annual CEO Summit - A Different Conversation on Race, where they had listened to speakers share enlightening experiences relating to issues of race. One of those speakers was Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, who had shared that, although he was at the helm of a $65 billion company, walking down the street, he could still feel the influence of engrained societal and racial preconceptions. Harkening back to Mr. Tyson’s remarks upon hearing of Tim’s initiative, Ron was even more inspired to fulfill the pledge. He and his fellow CEOs had to do more.
Julie Sweet, CEO North America for Accenture, also attended last year’s ELC CEO Summit with Tim and Ron, where she shared the pioneering actions around race that she kicked off at her company after July’s terrible events, including the nationwide webcast she led that allowed all of the more than 50,000 Accenture people in North America to participate in a dialogue around race and the workplace. When Tim invited her to join the steering committee, she eagerly accepted the opportunity to become part of this innovative effort to bring corporate leaders together in an open discussion about diversity. For Julie, the timing was right; it was not a question of “if,” but “how soon.” Recognizing that companies would make progress in this area at a slower pace if left to their own devices, she was convinced that if they banded together and took on the issue collectively, their progress would not only accelerate exponentially, it would spread. Best practices could be shared and, once a company’s CEO had taken the pledge, immediate decisions could be made to implement new practices. As Julie so beautifully surmised, as U.S. companies recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion and take action to ensure them, those companies will inevitably become more competitive, more jobs will be created and the country’s future will be brighter both socially and economically.
I was honored to speak with Tim, Ron and Julie and to have the opportunity to contribute, if only by adding my voice to theirs, to this amazing movement. As a mother, I cannot help but think how dramatically it will change the workplace for my children and for generations to come. It will, as I said at the outset, make history. And one hopes that there will come a time, in the not-too-distant future, when, thanks to efforts like this, the only place one can learn what it’s like to be in a non-diverse, exclusionary workplace is a history book!
The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™ website is live as of today here: www.CEOAction.com. All are encouraged to visit the site for updates, details and information regarding a leadership summit scheduled for the Fall and more information on how to join.