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To Advance Diversity & Inclusion, CEOs Must Choose Cooperation Over Competition

Moving the needle calls for working together.
Stígur Már Karlsson /Heimsmyndir via Getty Images

By David Abney, CEO, UPS

In game theory, cooperation produces the optimal solution to the prisoner’s dilemma. In evolutionary theory, it’s how genes help define genomes. In social theory, it’s how hunter-gatherer societies evolve into nation states. Cooperation is the fundamental principle that shapes humans and human society. And humans cooperate for one simple reason: There is strength — and value — in numbers.

Yet, most companies view advancing diversity and inclusion as a solo challenge. I believe this is because diversity as a “business” advantage sounds a lot like diversity as a “competitive” advantage. This, of course, is true. But when it comes to diversity and inclusion, cooperation gets all of us a lot further than competition ever can.

In cooperative situations, the cooperator often pays a cost to allow another to benefit. However, when the thing we’re cooperating on is diversity, the collective benefits for our companies, employees and communities far outweigh the “costs” of any resources we expend individually. After all, no one company has all the answers, and no one company faces all the challenges or realizes all the opportunities. For all of us, surviving and thriving demands cooperation among people — and organizations — with diverse outlooks, core capabilities and resources.

It’s all about sharing best practices, which gets all of us to a solution faster. HR professionals and chief diversity officers share best practices all the time. But since their practices stem from the tone at the top, organizations would benefit most if CEOs did some sharing of their own.

CEOs manage thousands of employees. We, myself included, make decisions that impact not only our companies, but also the communities and countries our companies do business in. In an increasingly connected world, with shared challenges and opportunities, we can make better decisions by incorporating viewpoints from people with differing backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.

In addition, sharing best practices requires CEOs to examine practices at an atypical level of granularity. To prioritize. To take ownership. Sharing best practices is essential to continuous improvement — and continuous improvement is essential to competing in a continually changing world and marketplace.

The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion operates collectively across organizations and sectors. It’s the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Recognizing that change starts at the executive level — and with the belief that addressing diversity and inclusion is not a competitive issue, but a societal one — more than 500 CEOs of the world’s leading companies and business organizations are leveraging their individual and collective voices to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Top-down leadership on diversity is especially important now because we’re facing exponential change more than ever. The communities where we live and work are changing. Customers are demanding that companies understand and fulfill their diverse needs in ways that they never have before.

There are over seven and a half billion people in the world — half of whom are women. By 2050, traditionally underrepresented groups will be the majority. More than 10 million adults now identify as LGBTQ in the U.S. today, which is 20 percent more than in 2012. With those realities, it defies logic that there isn’t more diversity in the workplace — especially in leadership roles. No company or industry that wants to survive can afford to exclude the majority of its potential talent pool. And, increasingly, companies cannot lead markets that their leadership does not reflect.

Diversity is good for the economy — it improves corporate performance, drives growth and enhances employee engagement. As we look ahead, inclusive diversity will be a critical factor in every company’s ability to adapt and excel in the global marketplace. We can continue to compete or we can choose to cooperate. I think cooperation is the better path, and CEOs are the best positioned to drive it. Fortunately, there are at least 500 other CEOs who think so too.

The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion was spearheaded by PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan.


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