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Truly Transformative Leaders: Four CEOs Modeling Active Support for Diversity

By Melissa J. Anderson

Top down support for diversity initiatives is critical for their success – but that support has to mean more than writing a check or delivering a prepared statement in an annual report. Leaders have to attend meetings, hold managers accountable for diversity implementation, and drive the diversity charge culturally.

For example, Jacqueline LiCalzi, Managing Director in Company Compliance at Morgan Stanley, and co-chair of the firm’s Pride (LGBT) employee networking group recently discussed how meaningful it was to have CEO James Gorman as well as Greg Fleming, President of the Morgan Stanley’s wealth management and investment management businesses, to speak at the firm’s Pride month kickoff event earlier this year.

She explained that by setting the tone from the top influence behavior throughout the organization. She said, “It shows that Morgan Stanley is not just about the talk – it’s about the action.”

Driving the cultural change that ensures real inclusion at every level means that executives have to actively model and support diversity – not just at the initiative level, but also in their day-to-day actions. As LiCalzi explained, it’s not hard for executives to say they support diversity. Showing their is a lot more meaningful.

Here are three CEO diversity champions publicly and actively leading the charge for more inclusiveness in their corporations.

1. Ken Chenault, Chairman and CEO, American Express

Ken Chenault has long led diversity efforts at a company that frequently appears at the top of workplace diversity lists. The company views diversity as critical for its own success in a increasingly global and ethnically diverse marketplace.

DiversityInc quotes him as saying:

“Diversity is a business opportunity that we are pursuing with the same vigor as any other. One of my top growth priorities for this year is to expand our penetration of younger customers, women and minorities. To achieve this, we will not only look to fully leverage our business assets to expand, reach and grow our business, we will utilize our diverse talent pool to its maximum. By doing that we are fostering an environment of creativity, innovation and success.”

2. Doug Conant, retired President and CEO, Campbell Soup Company

Doug Conant has been another vocal supporter of diversity and inclusion. During his tenure as president of Campbell Soup Company he saw gender diversity increase significantly. Similar to Amex, Campbell also saw a market-based reason to focus on building diversity. At Catalyst’s 2010 conference, he recounted how bringing more women into leadership “created a $200 million product over night,” the company’s Select Harvest line of soups.

Conant has also written prolifically about the importance of building diversity and inclusion. In a July article for the Harvard Business Review, he explained how he wears a rainbow colored bracelet as a symbol of his support for the LGBT community. He writes:

“I believe that when a CEO visibly stands for openness, diversity, and inclusion, it sends an essential message to the organization. In too many companies, the managerial ranks lack role models for women, people of color, and the LGBT community. But in my company’s (Campbell’s) case, diversity is about more than breaking glass ceilings — whether color, sexual, or generational. It’s about mirroring our consumers, 80% of whom are women from all ethnicities and walks of life. How can we possibly serve them well if the managers in our company don’t viscerally understand them?”

3. George Chavel, President and CEO, Sodexo, Inc.

George Chavel is another CEO that has been outspoken about the importance of diversity and inclusion. The company has implemented diversity training for tens of thousands of employees and is host to several employee resource groups.

In addition, Chavel leads the company’s Diversity Leadership Council which is responsible for setting expectations, driving strategy, and implementing diversity initiatives. The company actively holds managers and employees accountable for diversity performance.

In Profiles in Diversity Journal, he wrote:

“Diversity and inclusion is a key element of our business strategy and it’s an important component of everyone’s performance evaluation and bonus. But we don’t stop there. Genuine diversity requires inclusion because we believe a fully inclusive and open environment provides opportunities for all employees to contribute to our business success.”

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