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What can we learn from Ferguson?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Subriana Pierce

As we consider what’s happening around the country in high-profile police department cases involving Michael Brown, Treyvon Martin and Tamir Rice, there is one thing for certain: Some of the characteristics of the police departments and those in authority positions in Ferguson, Missouri and other cities in turmoil are mirrored in many of our corporate cultures.

Think about it. Most of the industry's organizations have almost all-white, all-male leadership teams that serve a much more diverse customer and employee base. This is a touchy subject, but as leaders we are responsible for dealing with many areas that might make us uncomfortable. Having said that, it’s time to have "the courageous conversation."

Related: 3 quick reminders for leading a diverse team

Here are the facts: Ferguson's population is 67 percent black. It has a white mayor, a 93-percent white city council and a 93-percent white police force. The seven-person school board has no black members and its most recent significant action was to fire a black superintendent.

Compare these statistics to those found in the Network of Executive Women Tapestry Report: 82 percent of board positions and 85 percent of executive positions are held by men. White women and men hold 97 percent of executive positions — and the list goes on and on. Yet, nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of household spending is managed by women, 85 percent of the population growth is coming from people of color and by 2050, 50 percent of U.S. women will be multicultural.

Are these numbers representative of where we want to be as an industry? When we read the news reports detailing racial tension like that found in Ferguson, do we ever look in the mirror and ask how the makeup of our leadership teams is affecting our employees, our productivity, our innovation, our go-to-market strategies and our profitability?

How diverse and inclusive is your organization? Do women — and women of color — have the same development opportunities and career paths offered to white males? My guess is the answer is "No" and action is required. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the smart thing to do.

What role can you play in your company to ensure you are a more vocal advocate of the need for change? Are you open to leading the discussion within your organization?

The solutions will come from your entire team, not just one person. Here are key areas to consider:

1. Encourage leadership to take a stand and show in action and in words the company's commitment to diversity.

2. Do your part to ensure the organization's leadership reflects the diversity of the community you serve.

3. Make sure everyone in the organization has a voice and is heard.

4. Leverage your executive diversity council. Oh, you don’t have one? Create one!

5. Establish cultural competency as a leadership expectation.

6. Immediately take action when someone in the organization doesn't walk the company's diversity values. You’re on a mission, and those not on the mission should not be a leader in your organization.

The more diverse your team, the more everyone on the team reflects a diversity of thought and the better the results. Each of us has the power to create change. Working together, we're unstoppable!

Subriana Pierce is managing partner of Navigator Sales and Marketing, a company that assists clients in navigating consumer goods and retail through consulting, coaching and product representation. She previously served in senior roles for Albertsons Southern California Division and Frito-Lay North America. She was honored as one of Griffin Report's 2015 Influential Women in Grocery, Progressive Grocer's 2013 Top Women in Grocery and Diversity MBA Magazine's 2012 Top 100 under 50 Diverse Executive Leaders. She is a committee co-chair for the Food Industry Circle Board for City of Hope and serves as consultant to the NEW Inclusion Committee.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.

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