Lessons from Leaders for Leaders: Innovative People Approaches | The Conference Board
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Lessons from Leaders for Leaders: Innovative People Approaches

In March of 2021, The Conference Board convened CEOs across the corporate landscape in a virtual conference, Building a More Civil & Just Society: Organizational Impact on Social Change Issues, to offer insights and actionable steps to meet the challenges of racism, economic opportunity, childhood education, health care, workplace equality, and corporate governance and drive lasting change in their own firms, communities, and in society.

The consensus from participants: acting to create a better society and address the inequities of opportunity is now an essential part of doing business. It is an intentional people-oriented strategy.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Creating Equal Opportunity in Society and the Workplace

“I strongly believe in free enterprise and capitalism, but we need to recognize that corporations exist because society allows us to exist…Businesses have a fundamental responsibility to do things that will improve society while generating a profit.”

—Ken Chenault, Chairman and Managing Director, General Catalyst, and Former Chief Executive and Chairman, American Express

Moving forward in addressing economic, racial, and health disparities within society and the workplace requires a shift in mindsets and innovative approaches to people that create behavioral change and build trust. Capitalism, in order to be sustainable, must be capable of creating economic opportunity for individuals and communities. The journey of creating and fostering a great company and building a more civil and just society starts with creating equal opportunities in education, upward mobility, wealth creation, and advancement in the workplace. This isn’t about altruism; it is about competitive advantage, sustainable economic growth and, most importantly, providing prosperity for all Americans. To ensure their own sustainability, which means attracting and retaining the brightest, most diverse talent, requires organizations to be socially responsible in serving their communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exaggerated the economic issues such as pay equity, housing, the survival and resiliency of small businesses, and health care disparities that directly and disproportionately affect women, people of color, and low- to moderate-income communities. We are at a time where societal recognition of what constitutes a fair and just economy and unacceptable and acceptable corporate behavior have risen to prominence in the public debate.

In March of 2021, The Conference Board convened CEOs across the corporate landscape in a virtual conference, Building a More Civil & Just Society: Organizational Impact on Social Change Issues, to offer insights and actionable steps to meet the challenges of racism, economic opportunity, childhood education, health care, workplace equality, and corporate governance and drive lasting change in their own firms, communities, and in society.

The consensus from participants: acting to create a better society and address the inequities of opportunity is now an essential part of doing business. It is an intentional people-oriented strategy.

Insights for What’s Ahead

The business leaders participating in the conference shared lessons and perspectives they and their organizations have learned as they confront the injustices in today’s society and attempt to create a fairer and people-centric workplace. Among those insights:

It begins at the beginning. Investment in high-quality early education can yield a range of long-term economic and social benefits such as higher wages, less crime, and higher graduation rates. Recognizing the importance of high-quality early education programs to a child’s development is a fundamental building block of a more civil and just society—and a more productive one. By championing early learning, business leaders can provide immense opportunity for the next generation and keep the US a top destination for business.

“Business leadership matters whether you’re at the CEO level, mid-management level, from a volunteer standpoint, from an advocacy standpoint, from an awareness standpoint—it all matters. Producing these kids that can successfully enter the K-12 systems, succeed beyond that, and economically and socially have mobility to go through our society…truly is the root of a civil and just society.”

—Steve Odland, President & Chief Executive Officer, The Conference Board

You need to go beyond diversity of numbers and build a culture of inclusiveness that allows diverse talent to thrive, contribute, and move up in the organization. A culture in which employees can understand, learn, grow, and work with each other fosters an environment of trust and harmony and leads to greater engagement, stronger communities, and ultimately improved productivity and sustainable growth.

“Companies depend on talent—the most important asset. And that talent is what is present throughout the country. There’s talent everywhere. Great talent. The real issue is what companies do, what individuals do, to ensure that talent has the opportunity to be the best that it can be.”

—Maurice Jones, Chief Executive Officer, OneTen

Your talent pipeline is a good place to look for signs of inequality and unequitable employment and promotion outcomes. To advance underrepresented talent, leaders need to be held accountable for creating more diverse talent pipelines. Talent takes time to develop, and that means paying attention now to your pipeline with an eye towards nurturing diverse talent and creating advancement opportunities. The overrepresentation or underrepresentation of different demographic groups within some occupations and roles is an important contributor to wage disparities and limited advancement opportunities.

“The ability for corporations to be successful in the future is directly tied to their commitment to investing in diverse talent. You won’t continue to be successful if you don’t have the brightest, diverse ideas and minds around the table. Companies that don’t do their part to support the communities they serve aren’t going to attract today’s younger Gen Z and millennial populations because they’re not going to want to work at the company – which would leave you with two challenges: you can’t attract the talent, and you won’t have the best ideas at the table.” 

—Sekou Kaalund, Managing Director, JPMorgan Chase

Pay equity is often thought of as a “one-and-done” event—but its importance extends well beyond HR. Organizations committed to the concept of pay equity integrate it into their basic mission, values, and recruitment and retention strategies to drive progress. Pay equity and fair compensation and hiring practices benefit organizations by strengthening economic performance, but organizations need to be more conscious and intentional about closing the racial and gender pay gap. It’s been estimated that collective action to improve gender parity could add $13 trillion to the global GDP by 2030.[1]

Focusing on alternative credentialing not only widens the pool of qualified candidates for in-demand skills but sends a signal to diverse populations that there are additional and nontraditional pathways to success.The benefits of using alternative credentials include widening the pool of qualified candidates, increasing the diversity of applicant pools, and opening nontraditional pathways to success.

“It's often said everybody is born with potential but not the same opportunity. I think that we're seeing employers recognizing that hiring young people from what aren't the same traditional pathways that they've always recruited from, young people who have grit and persistence, really are the kind of people that you need if you're going to have a great organization, a great company.”

—Brandee McHale, Head of Citi Community Investing and Development, Citi and President, Citi Foundation

A more holistic view of employee wellness extends beyond traditional health issues and requires an innovative approach to an array of issues such as pay equity, job opportunity, inclusiveness, employee burnout, and benefits.Leaders need to shift mindsets to create behavioral change and a better way to work. Many organizations tend to overlook the connection between physical/mental health and financial health as well as the overarching health of their community. Ensuring a living wage for all employees is not only an economic issue but also a health issue.

Focusing on a people-centric approach and a commitment to real stakeholder capitalism goes beyond a moral obligation; it is about competitive advantage and sustainable economic growth. Conference participants agree that what was in the past is not working. Society needs something better.

“(The unequal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic) points to issues of community: What communities provide opportunity and what communities do not? And when you ask that question, you have to ask the question, ‘Why?’ Why is America such a divided nation, where the color of your skin can determine where you live and the opportunities you have? It can determine the quality of life you have and how long you live. And that’s led us to focus a lot of our efforts around issues of structural racism.”

—Dr. Richard Besser, President and CEO, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

 

 

AUTHOR

ChuckMitchell.jpg

Charles Mitchell

Executive Director, Knowledge Content & Quality
The Conference Board


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