Diversity Management & Relationships: Currency for Your Career?
Diversity management provided Ernst & Young's Karyn Twaronite a unique opportunity managing people that she couldn't pass up.
Diversity management provided Karyn Twaronite a unique opportunity managing people that she couldn't pass up. She had a choice: take on a major revenue-generating role at Ernst & Young or become the firm's next Americas inclusiveness officer, the term it uses for its chief diversity officer.
Starting in Diversity Management
What made her take the position in diversity management? The realization that her influence in this job on the firm's sustainable business results would be greater than in virtually any other position. She calls it a "unique opportunity to have the whole organization committed to something I am so passionate about."
She took over as Americas inclusiveness officer in October last year, succeeding Billie Williamson, who has retired. Williamson recently spoke at a DiversityInc event on the importance of CEO commitment in diversity management, as seen in the video below. Both women have been client-serving partners in the firm, No. 6 on The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list.
Twaronite has worked for Ernst & Young for 22 years—the first 10 as a line executive, servicing clients in the media and financial-services industries. In the last decade, she's had major roles in HR, tying in the recruitment, retention and development of talent to her knowledge of how the firm connects with its clients to make money.
"My experience in a client-serving role was very valuable in HR," she says, noting that she evaluated and helped talent that could drive revenue by understanding clients better.
She made partner while in the HR role. "In our environment, that is a very big deal," she says. Before taking over the diversity-management role, she was the HR lead for the Northeast and the U.S./Canada field practices.
The Early Influences
She knew she wanted to become a businesswoman from an early age, inspired by her dual-career family that moved as her father took on positions as national sales manager for IBM, Xerox and SHARP Electronics. She lived in Connecticut, Florida and New Jersey before heading off to Miami University in Ohio for her undergraduate degree.
Her mother, a teacher who also owned an art gallery and framing business, was also a role model for her. "I knew that I wanted to be a professional woman and go into business," she says. "When I was at college, I had to declare a major, so I talked to my father. Miami of Ohio was rated high for accounting, so Dad's recommendation was to learn accounting because it would give me so many business options. It was very sound advice."
She started her career with Ernst & Young as a tax professional. Twaronite attended Fordham University at night, obtaining a master's degree in taxation and becoming a CPA in New York state. After moving into HR, she received strategic human-resources certifications from Cornell University and the Harvard Business School.
She recognized the intersection of diversity management and business early on. While working in the firm's client-service side, she cofounded the New York and Tri-State Professional Women's Networks in 1998 and has co-chaired them since that time. Twaronite also helped establish other employee groups, including groups for people with disabilities, veterans, working parents, LGBT people and Black, Latino and Asian professionals.
The Power of Diversity Management
In her new role in diversity management, she is a member of the firm's Americas Operations Group and serves on E&Y's Americas People Executive Council. She already has specific ideas on how to take Ernst & Young, a recognized diversity leader, to the next level through diversity management.
"I want to broaden the definition of inclusion," she says. "It's not just gender and ethnicity; it's differences in culture, style, technical knowledge, age, home countries, etc. All of our teams need to value these differences for what they bring to the table. If individuals can be themselves at work, they can provide the best possible cross-cultural and global services to our clients, which will lead to more business."
Ernst & Young will be recognized for its excellence in diversity management at the 2012 DiversityInc Special Award for Global Cultural Competence at our Oct. 11-12 event. Visit DiversityInc.com/events for more information and to register.
Twaronite believes strongly in helping her community through diversity management. As a long-time New York City resident, she's proud of her involvement as a member of the board of directors of the United Way of New York City and co-chair of the Corporate Advisory Council for The White House Project to advance women's leadership.
She also mentors younger people, including women, coming up in the organization. "Mentors provided me with constructive feedback, even if it was feedback that I didn't really want to hear," she says. "I asked for it on a regular basis. I tell people that if you open yourself up for feedback, you're going to get it. Have a stiff upper lip and a thick skin."
What's the best lesson she learned?
"Senior women taught me how important it is to build networks and really expand yourself outside of your comfort zone," Twaronite says. "I encourage as many people to do that as young as they can. Relationships are powerful and you can use them as currency in your career."
Sam Johnson, EY's Americas Vice Chair and Southeast Region Managing Partner, talks about the importance of sponsors, his passion for early childhood education and why it's critical for Black and Latino kids to get involved in STEM early.
Magical thinking will not move the needle on your diversity efforts, or your career, if your leadership is not accountable for results.
Over the weekend I received an email from a diversity consultant who wanted to "depoliticize" my column about Rex Tillerson and his speech on race and diversity management at the State Department.
Secretary Tillerson talked about using the "Rooney Rule" in the State Department. That "rule" is nothing more than magical thinking in most circumstances.
Background: Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney, in 2003, made it a policy to interview one "minority" for every coaching position. It was a result of bad publicity following two prominent Black coaches being fired, despite winning records. Attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran later underscored the perception of discrimination by writing a study documenting how Black head coaches, despite winning a higher percentage of games, were less likely to be hired and more likely to be fired.
Because overt discrimination is costly in the public sphere, the Rooney Rule was instituted and fines were levied against two teams who did not interview a minority candidate for a coaching position.
But racism is persistent. Here are the results 16 years later: 70 percent of football players are Black, 20 percent of quarterbacks are Black, 10 percent of coaches are Black, 0 percent of owners are Black.
The very definition of antebellum plantations.
Are Black people too stupid to be coaches or quarterbacks? Charles Murray or the Freakonomics racists might say yes, but here's the truth — interviewing someone who was not as prepared as everyone else being interviewed is a set up for failure. Quietly, behind closed doors and closed minds, the results will be attributed to race and/or gender (in a corporate setting). But the truth is that preparing people for management positions is management's responsibility — and if management is all white men, what is the real color of failure?
If you don't give your people equitable opportunities to be assigned responsibilities that lead to leadership positions, don't have discipline in your mentoring, don't have an executive diversity council to oversee and hold accountable the process, you will produce the same results you currently have in most companies: white men in almost all positions of responsibility. That is the case at ExxonMobil, that is the case in the State Department, that is the case in most corporations, and under current leadership direction, it will never change. Never.
Regarding "depoliticizing" my initial column, you can't depoliticize this subject. Counting enslaved Black people as three-fifths of a human being is politicizing race (Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution). In the recent past, with a Black president, corporate diversity leaders could all try to nudge and wink at recalcitrant white executives in an effort to make progress without rocking the boat too much — but that hasn't worked. There has been very little progress for diversity outside of the DiversityInc Top 50.
Soft-pedaling this subject and expecting progress while attempting to not hurt any feelings by "depoliticizing" diversity is impossible with white supremacy, neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates being tacitly (and at times bluntly) endorsed by the president.
Here's an example — a prominent CEO posted a diversity statement for a public website. From the CEO's statement: "The despicable conduct of hate groups in Charlottesville last weekend, and the violence and death that resulted from it, shows yet again that our nation needs to focus on unity, inclusion, and tolerance." Two sentences later the CEO wrote this: "We have worked with every U.S. president since Woodrow Wilson."
1. "Tolerance" of hate groups or of those who do is acceptance and endorsement of hate groups. If you are going to "tolerate" me because of who or what I am, please know your tolerance is belittling and humiliating. I can tolerate lima beans in a stew. I do not have the imprimatur to "tolerate" another human being; nobody does.
2. Woodrow Wilson was the worst racist to ever occupy the White House. He was a horrible, horrible man. Either the CEO does not know American history or is sending a dog whistle to the White House, which is currently occupied by a white supremacist. By the way, the CEO is a member of a well-known sexist golf club.
Either way, it's wrong. And here is this CEO's diversity results: A leadership team (19 people) that is 5 percent non-white, 26 percent women.
Should you work for people like this? What does their leadership say about the future of this company? Their innovation? Their commitment to ethical behavior? Their stock is down for both one-year and five-year periods. Magical thinking does not increase stock prices, either.
Credibility is at the core of a successful diversity management effort. Secretary Tillerson provides a teachable moment.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is speaking about race as I write this. Humiliated by his boss, he's trying his best to sound like a nice guy who doesn't believe that Nazis and people who oppose Nazis are equivalent. He is going to try a diversity effort at the State Department.
He's making some classic mistakes. When a white man says "regardless of" race/gender/orientation/disability — look out, they don't mean what they're going to say next. If we are addressing existing disparities, it is never regardless of; it is because of. "Regardless of" dismisses the person you're referring to. It assumes a neutrality a white man like Tillerson simply doesn't have. Was Tillerson able to become the CEO of Exxon regardless of the fact that he was from Texas, an engineer and a white man? The person who succeeded Tillerson at Exxon is from Texas, has an engineering degree and is a white man, not an Asian woman with a nursing degree. If you cannot start the conversation with honesty, insight and clarity, you will never have the credibility to earn a successful conclusion.
He also quoted "my friend" Condoleezza Rice with another classic phrase of (perhaps well-meaning) clueless people: "It doesn't matter where you came from." Oh yes it does — especially for the State Department. Where you come from is going to shape your point of view and how you approach problems and solutions. I would think that the State Department should especially desire differences of where people come from (even from within the United States). When you dismiss people and their backgrounds with "it doesn't matter," you fail to honor or respect who they are. Not the basis to start a relationship. Certainly not the way to get the maximum productivity and advantage out of the differences — if you fail to recognize them as assets.
Secretary Tillerson is also describing diversity management initiatives that are very 20 years ago. The "Rooney Rule" for senior positions is just foolish if you're limited to promoting from within and your organization has not developed talent equitably. You are never going to be successful if you don't have goals, the means to accomplish them, an executive diversity council to oversee the efforts and the guts to hold specific people accountable.
After we have all recently seen white male behavior in Charlottesville and subsequent white male behavior from the president of the United States (the stereotype stings, but that's how most non-white, non-male people see it), white male leaders need to be very careful in their communications and efforts. The level of scrutiny, distrust and frustration has never been greater. I recommend white men be well-read and well-informed. It is offensive to assume the imprimatur over a diversity effort simply because you are/were a CEO, just as it would be offensive to go to MIT with your 40-year-old engineering degree and start teaching 400 level math. Start with books: "Chokehold," "Slavery By Another Name," "The New Jim Crow," "White Rage" and "My Bondage and My Freedom."
Engage in honest dialogue, perhaps through your resource groups, with people who don't look like you and are not from your privileged background. Listen more than you speak in those encounters. Understand it may take some time for people to trust you enough to be honest with you. Have (and express) some humility for your ignorance — you will find it received with great warmth and acceptance. Remember that actions speak louder than words; volunteer in places where you may pick up some first-hand experience and knowledge.
I wish Secretary Tillerson success, but I'm not betting on it.
The First Amendment does not protect employees who engage in white supremacy activities, experts suggest.
Which CEOs have — and have not — responded to President Trump's handling of Charlottesville?
During a critical time for business leaders, CEOs and other company leaders have faced decisions. Some chose to remove themselves from White House business councils after President Donald Trump did not immediately disavow white supremacy after violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., left one counter-protester dead and many others injured.
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Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said that by not immediately rebuking white supremacists, President Trump "missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together."
More executives are standing in opposition against President Donald Trump's response to violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend and his refusal to immediately condemn white supremacists.