‘We must get uncomfortable to drive D&I,’ CEOs say

‘We must get uncomfortable to drive D&I,’ CEOs say

Sarah Alter and Marvin Ellison

Creating an inclusive workplace will require senior-level commitment and uncomfortable conversations, industry CEOs told more than 1,000 industry leaders at the NRF 2018 Retail’s Big Show & Expo, January 16.

NEW President and CEO Sarah Alter joined Benno Dorer, chairman and CEO of The Clorox Company; Marvin Ellison, chairman and CEO of J.C. Penney; and Hubert Joly, chairman and CEO of Best Buy, to discuss ways that companies could “Transform Culture” to advance diversity. The discussion was organized by CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion and moderated by Shannon Schuyler, chief purpose officer of PwC.

“The business case for diversity and inclusion couldn’t be clearer,” Dorer said. “D&I leads to faster growth, higher returns, greater employee engagement and better shareholder performance.”

While there has been some progress toward gender equality in starting and junior-level roles, women at the mid-level and senior executive level are leaving the workplace at much faster rates than men, Alter noted. ”In a multicultural, customer-driven business, diverse talent is key, and without women and multicultural leaders you simply can’t compete.”

Embracing diversity

The CEOs shared personal experiences that have shaped their views on diversity.

Ellison, one of just three black CEOs heading a Fortune 500 company, shared an experience as a young executive at Target. “I moved from the South to Minnesota and felt like a foreigner,” he said. “I dressed differently, I spoke differently. I worked hard to blend in, because I thought if I was standing out, something was obviously wrong.

“About three months into that failed experiment, my wife reminded me of something my father had taught me and my siblings, ‘Nobody can beat you being you.’  In other words, embrace who you are, your gifts, your diversity — whether it is your ethnicity, gender or talent set — and stand out.”

Best Buy CEO Joly said his views on the power of women’s leadership and unconscious bias have been shaped by his experiences working for women and participating in nonprofit organizations “building bridges.”

Building a sustainably diverse and inclusive workplace “starts with the contention that D&I is one of our values: Unleashing the power of people,” Joly said. “How do we do that if individuals don’t feel welcome to bring their whole selves to work?”

Male leadership required

At the same time, companies must engage white men in D&I goals, Joly said. “We must work with white men and help them understand D&I is a business imperative and not about having less [white men], but about being a successful company that offers equal opportunity to all.”

The work to create equal opportunity for all means “dealing with centuries of biases,” Joly added. “In this journey, we will make mistakes — I’ve already made several — but we have no choice. We have to stick with it.”

“We live in a troubled time and CEOs have an opportunity to shape a microcosm of society,” Dorer noted. “Our employees are hurting because people in a society get hurt. We are here to serve shareholders, but we also have a role to better society.”

View a video of the panel discussion on Facebook.