By Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc
Over the last year we’ve seen how corporate influence and leadership was exerted in Missouri and Indiana. In the case of Indiana, CEOs of both Cummins and Eli Lilly and Company (DiversityInc Top 50 companies) were very clear that Governor Pence’s anti-gay legislation was detrimental to their ability to recruit the best and brightest. That leadership was crucial to getting the governor to reverse course.
In the case of Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, Ameren, on our top utilities list, provided some leadership – but the rest of the corporations in the state were silent as the greatest malfeasance of local and state government since the civil rights era occurred.
It will be very difficult to recruit people with other options, especially millennials, to St. Louis. I’m sure many of Missouri’s best and brightest who leave the state for college education won’t return. I invited Dr. Enrico Morretti, professor of economics at UC Berkeley, to be our Top 50 event lunch speaker. His book, The New Geography of Jobs, documents how some cities are perceived to be more attractive and are accreting college graduates at a more rapid rate than other cities.
The data backing up his argument is compelling. He links the attractiveness of better cities to economic advantage extending all the way to the lowest paid workers.
At the end of his book, he provides a cautionary tale: Detroit was the Silicon Valley of 80 years ago.
Given the speed of modern communications, it won’t take 80 years to destroy a competitive advantage these days. Our Top 50 data shows it’s happening to some companies on our list right now – they are struggling to recruit and retain.
It’s all about communications and leadership. Old media died about 10 years ago. Print is dead, broadcast TV is just about dead and cable is dying. The traditional (and almost 100 percent white) public relations industry has been made irrelevant. Mass media created and consumed by the masses (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook) created a space that pulled in the overwhelming majority of most traditional audiences.
Unfortunately, old ideas about communications live on in many of the corporations I speak with.
It is the responsibility of corporate leadership to make sure that they proactively communicate the image that will attract the best and brightest – and implement aggressive hands-on talent management to keep them engaged. This is especially true if corporate headquarters is in a remote area, or a down-on-its-heels city. Young people, especially the best and brightest, are remarkably mobile; they will move to where the action is perceived to be. And they will avoid areas that have values that conflict with theirs. I think Eli Lilly and Cummins did a great job to mitigate the damage of their governor’s poor decision- making. Talent is not going to migrate to a gay bashing, racist or sexist environment – and there is tremendous damage done by a CEO telling women to rely on karma for career direction, or who feels a conversation about race should happen with front-line workers and customers, but not in their executive committee. Our Top 50 dinner speaker is Rev. Jesse Jackson.
His latest work to open the doors of opportunity in Silicon Valley is remarkable in its fresh echo of his civil rights era roots. He brings the message that civil rights is good for business.
Good values and successful diversity efforts aren’t very powerful if you keep them a secret. No message is a negative message in an environment where everyone has a message. But you had better have the stuffing to back up your communications, because verification is just a click away. Just look at Starbucks’ and Microsoft’s executive leadership web pages – majority, male and stale. Talent repellant.