CEOs Make Ambitious Pledge -- But Will It Work?
The leaders of the nation's largest companies want to make diverse talent feel welcome in the nation's workplaces.
By Andrew R. McIlvaine
More than 150 CEOs from some of the largest, best-known companies on the planet have just signed on to the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, an effort that includes leaders from Accenture, Deloitte U.S., GE and some other fancy blue-chip names. Its quite a big deal: The CEOs are pledging to take action to, among other things, share successful -- and unsuccessful -- actions shared across organizations via a unified hub and "cultivate a workplace where employees feel encouraged to discuss diversity and inclusion."
One component of the program will include implementing and expanding unconscious-bias education, which is a potentially powerful tool because it encourages everyone to identify and address their own biases. This is especially important for the recruiting process, in which even a person who's highly qualified for a position can be hurt for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with his or her skill set. After all, nearly every one of us has biases -- and these can include biases against, say, a rural white person who speaks with an accent. Research has shown that when we let ourselves be guided too much by our unconscious biases, then potentially valuable talent -- from all corners of the country and the world -- gets left on the floor, and that hurts us all.
This effort is one that will be watched by many of us in the business world with a mix of excitement and profound skepticism. After all, here in one of the most diverse countries on the planet, we haven't exactly mastered the art of talking to one another, rather than past each other. And yet, as the press release states, when we feel respected and valued for who we are -- and can see our colleagues (and neighbors, etc.) for who they are, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity -- then great things can happen.
One of the effort's toughest challenges will be, of course, the part about cultivating workplaces in which honest conversations about diversity and inclusion can take place. As you know, talk may be cheap, but the wrong kind of talk -- unfiltered, taken out of context, etc. -- can get very, very expensive. Companies like EY, Accenture and GE have the resources to afford the very best in training so that these potential issues can be addressed and avoided in a skillful manner. But what about the workplaces in small to mid-sized organizations -- you know, those places that hire and employ 99 percent of U.S. workers? Hopefully, the solutions that will be shared on CEOAction.com's platform will be accessible to, and workable for, the companies with much more limited funds.