Joe Biden had a drawn-out process to pick his running mate for vice president, Sen. Kamala Harris. There are excellent lessons to be learned for corporate America:
1. Joe Biden identified his problem: He has to have the engaged support of his base, especially the Black community and women, to win in November.
Hillary Clinton lost 2016 for two reasons: She needed 25,000 more Black votes from Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee, and the Democratic electorate was not excited. Ten percent fewer Democrats voted in 2016 compared with 2012, 7% didn’t bother to vote, and 3% voted for a third-party candidate.
In response to these issues, Biden promised to select a woman as a running mate. In light of current events, the Democratic base made it clear that a woman of color was preferable. Sen. Harris would be totally qualified if she were a white man. Who she is makes her a superb choice.
If you are thinking, ‘It is unfair that only a woman was considered,” think again. For almost 250 years, only white men were considered for the presidency and vice presidency (with three exceptions among the major parties). Look where we are today: 4.3% of the world’s population and 23% of COVID-19 deaths.
Our president recently said that the 1918 flu pandemic ended World War II. This man controls thousands of nuclear weapons. The average S&P 500 company lasts 20 years, and almost every CEO is a white man. Surely this powerful and wealthy country can do better than this.
2. Joe Biden had a solid group of female Democrats to choose from. We’ve been through almost four years of a government run by almost 100% white male leadership.
According to Pew, 33% of the electorate is not white and “among registered voters, 56% of women identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party compared with 42% of men.“ Countering with running Kanye West on swing-state ballots and m ore “What do you have to lose?” comments isn’t effective—it’s pandering in light of 60% of all Americans supporting BLM (a huge swing since the murder of George Floyd).
Most corporations have a leadership team that demographically looks like the Republican Party. This fact has not prevented many companies from making cringe inducing statements or otherwise rushing into the “diversity” space, with expected poor results.
One large corporation had a recruiting firm reach out to me to talk about their chief diversity officer vacancy. All of the people I know were uninterested because the company has never been serious about the subject. Of the 12 people pictured on their leadership page, four are women (with only two of them in line functions), and only two of the twelve are not white. Zero are apparently Latinx. Their headquarters is in a very white suburb. Yet, this company’s customer base over-indexes with Black and Latino consumers. Why would anyone serious about diversity want to work there? To “change things” in 2020? In my opinion, they don’t print enough money to take on that job.
Several “brand name” consulting companies are rushing into the need for corporate information on the subject. One rather vocal example has been vociferously giving diversity advice— but if you look at their corporate leadership, they have exactly one Black person out of 76 people on their leadership page. (And he is not in the US). Of the nine most senior leaders, there is only one woman and none are non-majority. Taking diversity advice from this company is like learning to cook from someone who has never been near a stove.
Another politics-to-corporate analogy is criticism. Some Republicans and right-wing media are commenting about Sen. Harris‘s “blackness.” A 99% white-male political party making comments about this is like making observations on butterfly migration from Mars. People in the Black community will decide what they think without regard of whitemansplanations.
Finally, Barack Obama forgave Joe Biden’s “articulate and clean” comment, and they made a good team—to the benefit of our country. In turn, Joe Biden has forgiven Kamala Harris’s harsh criticism during the primary campaign. I think they’ll both benefit from the experience. If they’re successful in November, we all will.
In both cases, the aggrieved party allowed the other person’s total body of work to speak for itself. If you don’t have a “total body of work“ when it comes to diversity, no time like the present to get to work, but it’s foolish to mistake white privilege for experience.