Andy Ryan—Getty Images
By Ellen McGirt
Updated: May 17, 2018 4:37 PM ET

BlackRock is the world’s biggest asset manager, overseeing some $6.3 trillion in client money.

So, when Laurence D. Fink, BlackRock’s founder and CEO, wrote a letter to the chief executives of the largest publicly traded companies last January asking them to embrace a new sense of purpose and shareholder engagement – and while they were at it, diversify their boards – it got attention.

“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose,” he said. “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”

Jonathan McBride, managing director and global head of inclusion and diversity at BlackRock, offered an in-depth look at the company’s plans during a recent conference at Wharton. The man tasked with leading BlackRock’s diversity efforts started with some good advice: Ask your employees if they feel like they belong.

A commitment to inclusion is still relatively new at BlackRock, but it’s quickly emerging as both a data science and a leadership art.

McBride describes a leadership team who are all in; his most recent example was a “company jam” which ended on International Women’s day on March 8. Some 14,000 employees “talked to each other about belonging, the future of learning, our sense of purpose, and our collective purpose, deliberately, for three days.” Fink and its founder and BlackRock president Robert Kapito were there, “jamming alongside everybody else,” he said.

But the data they’re collecting and the experts they’re wrangling for internal presentations are helping McBride’s team push past pockets of resistance — “so, has diversity ever worked?” — while taking the burden of proof off of individuals who advocate for change.

He shares some principles for hiring the “best candidate” – focus more on team outcomes rather than individual credentials, and don’t recreate a squad of “replicants” who look like each other. But inclusion, at its core, is a human endeavor. “At BlackRock we use this funny new technology called ‘talking to the people who work for you,’” a line he likes to use to help highlight the heart of culture change, he tells raceAhead. Finding a way to talk about big issues, like race in society, or technical ones, like what it means to “bring your full self to work,” is largely about finding ways for people to feel safe to speak candidly. “All of this is part of the work we’re doing.”

 

[By the by, If there’s ever to be a raceAhead Hall of Fame (which suddenly strikes me as a good idea) my money’s on McBride for the first wave of inductees. Who’s on your shortlist? Hit me back with your heroes.]

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