The Power Of Peer Pressure: 175 CEOs Commit To Lead Diversity And Inclusion In The Workplace

Written by Dana Sanchez

This week, 175 CEOs of mostly Fortune 500 companies promised publicly to make their own workplaces more diverse and inclusive, but also to support other companies that are trying to do the same by sharing what works — and what doesn’t.

“To have the highest level of commitment by CEOs to share diversity and inclusion learnings — and even potentially air mistakes — is something that doesn’t happen every day,” said Georgene Huang, CEO of Fairygodboss, a marketplace where professional women looking for jobs meet employers who care about gender equality. Huang is a Forbes contributor.

The The C.E.O Action for Diversity & Inclusion is led by a steering committee that includes the CEOs and leaders of Accenture, BCG, Deloitte, General Atlantic, New York Life, Proctor & Gamble, PwC, the Executive Leadership Council, KPMG US, New York Life, and EY’s U.S. chairman, Steve Howe.

Other members include American Express’ Kenneth Chenault, CBS’s Leslie Moonves, IBM’s Ginni Rometty, PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi, and Walmart’s Doug McMillon. One non-CEO on the list is PwC’s U.S. chairman Tim Ryan, who spearheaded the initiative a year ago, Business Insider reported.

You can find a full list of signatory members here.

Members made a pledge to do three things:

  • Create a workplace where employees can feel comfortable having conversations about diversity and inclusion.
  • Implement and expand unconscious bias education and training to help employees recognize and minimize their own “blind spots.”
  • Openly “share best practices — and unsuccessful — practices” so that other companies can “evolve and enhance their current diversity strategies.”

“The key word here that stood out to me was ‘unsuccessful,'” Huang said in a Forbes report:

“Positive attention should be awarded to those who demonstrate leadership in diversity and inclusion … One should not underestimate the power of positive peer pressure for others to do the right thing and raise the standard for behavior, culture and policies … Much rarer, however, is that species of company who admits that an attempt to improve diversity and inclusion didn’t live up to its hopes, despite the best of intentions. When plans don’t pan out in terms of results, you seldom hear about it. This results in similar (and unsuccessful) practices occurring in multiple places without the benefit of learning from history.”

What is the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion?

The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion is the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. A unique collaboration of more than 150 CEOs have signed on to this commitment, agreeing to take action to cultivate environments where diverse experiences and perspectives are welcomed and where employees feel comfortable and encouraged to discuss diversity and inclusion. All the signatories of the commitment are leaders of their companies and promise to implement the pledge in their workplaces. Where companies have already implemented one or several of the commitments, they promise to support other companies in doing the same.

As part of signing on to the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, CEOs are committing to implementing all of the elements within the pledge.

More than 150 organizations were approached that were considered representative of the broader business community across industries, geographies, size, and scale, according to an ACTION press release.

The commitment isn’t only open to Fortune 500 companies. Companies that agree to the elements within the pledge and would like to sign on can do so at any point. “We invite other CEOs across America to join us,” according to the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion.

Business leaders from various industries have promised to share successes and failures in diversity and inclusion initiatives with the collective business community.

The commitment is not aimed at benefiting a single group, according to the ACTION webiste.

We are committed to advancing inclusion of all employees and making them feel supported in the workplace, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability status, veteran status, or other aspect of diversity. We recognize that diversity and inclusion are multi-faceted issues and that we need to tackle these subjects holistically to better engage and support all of our employees, our communities and our stakeholders.

As part of this commitment, signatories have agreed to dedicate their time and resources to advance diversity and inclusion efforts both within their companies and as a part of the coalition to benefit society as a whole.

What specific actions will the CEOs be taking?

The CEOs believe that there is a gap in the market when it comes to sharing and collaborating across enterprises in order to advance diversity and inclusion in the business community.

Some are making strides while others aren’t, and there are valuable lessons to be shared and learned in both of those experiences. To facilitate the exchange of actions, we have built a hub that will enable companies to share best-known actions across different areas of diversity.

Each signatory has also agreed to implement unconscious bias training in their organization, and those who have already done so are committing to mentor others to effectively implement this training.

How will each company go about making its workplace safe to have difficult conversations about topics such as race?

Rather than prescribe the creation of specific tools, each company is asked to foster environments, platforms, or forums with their people and organizations in mind. Through our unified hub, CEOAction.com, companies can share best known actions on how they are doing this. We will also be convening the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Summit in the fall where we hope to discuss our learnings and challenges in order to identify potential solutions and opportunities as a group.

A Diversity and Inclusion conference is being planned in the fall in Washington, D.C. The conference is being organized by Saturday Morning, a group formed by four black ad executives to promote peace and change around racial inequality, according to an Ad Age report. Saturday Morning has been working with Procter & Gamble on the effort, including consulting on the CEO initiative’s name, website and strategy, according to Keith Cartwright, a Saturday Morning founder and executive creative director at Butler Shine Stern & Partners.

Between 1,000 and 2,000 people are expected to attend the conference, including CEOs, chief marketing officers, chief diversity officers and other executives, for what’s hoped to be an annual event.

The goal of the conference is to help change “how we hire, how we bring people in and how we act as a business with complete and total sensitivity” on issues that persist, Cartwright said:

Four African-American creative leaders — Cartwright; Geoff Edwards (creative executive at Creative Artists Agency); Jayanta Jenkins (creative director of advertising at Apple/Beats by Dre); and Jimmy Smith, chairman, CEO and chief creative officer of Amusement Park — came together to create Saturday Morning. And in September, Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard and Damon Jones, P&G’s director for global company communications, told Saturday Morning that the consumer products giant was signing onto the cause.

When and how will each company share best known—and unsuccessful—actions?

The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion has launched a corporate exchange of best-known actions around diversity and inclusion. This unified hub — CEOAction.com — will provide companies with a platform to easily share successes and challenges with one another. We believe by sharing successes and pitfalls, it will help companies learn from each other and more effectively apply meaningful tools, programs, and strategies within their companies. Additional sharing and discussion opportunities will be included as part of the summit being planned for Fall 2017.

How will CEOs make unconscious bias training available to everyone?

The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion has made the blind spot video series available free to anyone to help them offer it in their organizations. These resources can be found on the “Actions” section at CEOAction.com.

Why is implementing and expanding unconscious bias training a focus as CEOs commit to lead diversity and inclusion

Experts tell us that we all have unconscious biases that manifest themselves in various aspects of our daily lives. Unconscious bias education is a resource that can enable individuals to begin recognizing, acknowledging, and deconstructing any potential blind spots he or she might have, but was not aware of previously. By giving employees at all levels access to these insights, we aim to facilitate more open and honest conversations that will support inclusion throughout our organizations.

As leaders of some of America’s largest corporations, we recognize that such education is an important necessary step, because unconscious bias, by its very nature is hidden. But we also recognize that such education while necessary, is not a sufficient step to create change. That requires constant vigilance and proactive efforts to create equal opportunity and access.

Are there key industries where CEOs hope to see movement based on actions from the commitment?

The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion is signed by companies in 50-plus industries and has the potential to positively impact millions of employees. “We hope to see advancement in diversity and inclusion in every organization that is part of the commitment.”

What does success look like and how do you measure it?

Success, to us, is centered around knowledge sharing and collaboration across industries. This is why we will be focused on using our unified hub to easily share successes and challenges as well as continue to expand our list of signatories to draw in even more perspectives and experiences from the workplace. The hub will help measure the efforts’ reach and impact by capturing many of the best known actions that are shared across companies who visit the site for more information about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In the fall, our CEOs will also convene in-person for the first ever CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Summit to discuss learnings and challenges, which will provide insights to guide potential solutions and opportunities for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

How often will new commitments be added to the pledge?

The commitments within the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion are the first in a series of actions the group plans to take in order to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. The signatories will plan to build on the initial commitments and roll out additional ones.

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