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.
The company came under fire for promoting their new camera that featured a selection of only male photographers.
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.
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.
Executives are making quick decisions in a critical time for business leaders — but not all statements are equal.
Three CEOs have stepped down from President Donald Trump's advisory council on manufacturing as a result of the White House's delayed response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, which left one counter-protester dead and consisted of many Trump supporters.
The Google controversy is being cast as liberal versus conservative; it's neither.
In the recent Google controversy, Damore, the young man who wrote the 10-page memo that got him fired, has cast his firing as being liberal (Google) versus conservative (Damore).
It's neither. The media, especially the "conservative" media, is missing the point. Google exists to provide return on equity to its shareholders. Money doesn't care about "liberal" or "conservative." It does care about "disruptive." If the management team charts a course, arguing against it is disruptive. These days, if you put anti-work culture material on your Facebook page, you are disruptive at work because the people you work with will certainly share the news.
New entrants to the labor market are almost twice as diverse as retiring boomers. There is a 22 percentage point difference for women alone (more, if you include unemployment differences) — which is not surprising, as women labor participation rate went up 50 percent over the last 50 years, and more than half of four-year college degrees have been earned by women since the late 1980s.
So, whether you are designing products to be consumed by the workforce or people to employ, diversity management is a commonsense strategic necessity.
Top leaders at the company demonstrated their own worst practices by hiding behind a statement from their brand new head of diversity, who has only been on the job for a couple of weeks.
In the case of Google, its self-reported workforce demographics show yawning gaps for everyone but white and Asian men. Nobody can deny Google's business success — but recognizing that talent gaps are liabilities, Google, ignoring lessons learned by more progressive companies, charted its own course toward diversity management, which hit an iceberg in the past week.
In my opinion, the CEO badly fumbled. Their brand new chief diversity officer was thrust into the spotlight to respond — the CEO responded days later, fired Damore and canceled their diversity summit (which was a bad idea to begin with; they were not thought out enough to be ready).
Hopes, dreams and aspirations are wonderful, but if I were Google's CEO, I would be ready to answer a key question: Why aren't there more women at Google? Why haven't their self-reported numbers significantly improved? Why has Google been passive?
CEO Sundar Pichai said "much of what was in" misogynistic memo from engineer "is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority … disagree," but said language "advancing harmful gender stereotypes" was "not OK." The employee reportedly has been fired.
There is a problem. Although attaining almost 60 percent of four-year degrees, women shy away from engineering in college. Only 16 percent of computer science engineering degrees are earned by women.
However, just like there is a 20 percentage point difference between women in top management at Google versus the DiversityInc Top 10, some colleges are doing far better at attracting women to engineering. For example, at MIT, Women earn 51 percent of engineering degrees and 32 percent of computer engineering degrees (double for the national average).
Google has a $649 billion market cap. It can afford to fund massive scholarships at the best schools to attract the women it needs to gain an intellectual cultural foothold for women at its company — a foothold that would change the culture that enabled Damore to communicate as he did. Decisive leadership changes cultures.
I've seen this happen in real life at Novartis Pharmaceuticals Company. While decisively recovering from a class-action lawsuit that women brought to a successful decision, NPC CEO Andre Wyss disciplined management to the extent that he was succeeded by a woman, who had 50 percent women reporting to her (including scientific functions). It took him several years, but by the time he concluded his magnificent diversity management initiative, there were no more excuses in executive diversity council meetings. None. There was pride. And NPC was ranked number one on our Top 50 list. Twice.
Why should Google make an investment in diversity management?
As Damore pointed out in his essay, there are differences between men and women, but the differences themselves are instrumental to the future innovation necessary to keep ahead of technology, demographic and cultural change. 100 years ago, Detroit was Silicon Valley. People flocked there from all over. Detroit's population peaked in 1950 with 1.8 million people; currently it has 677,000 and the signs in the Detroit airport are bi-lingual, Chinese and English. The Big 3 were out-innovated. But they are recovering. General Motors (No. 42 on our Top 50) moved the cool-car Cadillac division headquarters to extremely diverse SoHo Manhattan.