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raceAhead: May 17, 2016

May 17, 2016, 1:09 PM UTC

Last month, I attended a two-part White House briefing that brought together some 30 CEOs and senior executives from bold-faced corporate names—AT&T, Caterpillar, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, GM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Staples, Starbucks, UPS, Walgreens, and Xerox, among them—to talk candidly about diversity and inclusion in the C-suite, supply chain, and the workforce as a whole. Turns out, Major League Baseball is doing cutting edge work on supply chain diversity. Who knew?

Valerie Jarrett, who is President Obama’s longest serving senior adviser and runs his Office for Public Engagement, told me later, “I was impressed with the number of executives who highlighted their recognition that diversity is a strength and who shared their best practices with us.” The CEOs were clearly there to do the work. “Competitors in the room were very open about their approach, recognizing that achieving their goal of diversity and inclusion is more important than their competition.”

More from my exclusive interview with Jarrett here

These are not small challenges. Lively panel discussions later in the day dug into the issues with data and anecdotes. Mission statements don’t work. Values do. Sisyphus was mentioned. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, but smart strategy builds culture. And tokenism is expensive and pointless. “If you have one minority candidate [for a job or in a high potential pool] that person doesn’t have a chance,” said David Hekman, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at CU Boulder. “You need at least two.” I’ll dig more deeply into the work that these companies are doing in future newsletters.

Speaking from the floor, John W. Rogers, Jr, the Chairman, CEO, and Chief Investment Officer at Ariel Investments, raised an important question about making diversity a competitive advantage. “How can we be transparent about our data?” he challenged, making a passionate case for peer ranking and evaluation. “Nobody wants to be on the bottom of any list.” Noted.


On Point

Diversity university.
The vast majority of students at elite colleges come from wealthy families. This year, Amherst is being recognized for reversing the trend by minimizing admission barriers for low-income students. Frank Bruni explains why socioeconomic diversity is challenging for colleges, and why they need to do better.
New York Times

Mining is dangerous.
South Africa’s High Court has cleared the way for a class action suit that will allow some half million miners to sue their employers for fatal lung diseases contracted while working under ground. Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, and Harmony Gold are among those facing suit.
The Guardian

I know why the @blackbirds sing.
Twitter added BET CEO and Chair Debra Lee to its board, which will bring much-needed diversity - and platform savvy - to her new duties. Moments after the announcement, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey announced she would chair the company's Nominating-Governance committee.

The Slants and the Supremes.
When musician Simon Tam named his all-Asian band The Slants, he said it was to reclaim the slur as a display of ethnic pride. The trademark office disagreed, deeming the name likely disparaging to Asian people. Trademark denied. (See also: The Redskins trademark, which was cancelled for similar reasons in 2014.) The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard Tam’s case and ruled that the disparaging trademarks rule is unconstitutional. The case may go to the Supreme Court.
New Yorker

Rush better have my money.
Last year, a glitch shut hundreds of financially vulnerable or unbanked customers out of their RushCards, a pre-paid debit card account offered by a company founded by rap mogul Russell Simmons. Last week, Simmons agreed to pay each of its 300,000 users at least $100. For starters.
Think Progress

Your network at work.
Tembo Nagenda has been promoted to executive vice president of production at Walt Disney Studios. In a rare balancing act, Nagenda has managed to handle traditional Disney fare - like live-action remakes of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast - with bold new material, like the studio’s upcoming drama about a young African chess champion, Queen of Katwe, starring Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo. Upcoming projects include the adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time with director Ava DuVernay, and Dumbo with Tim Burton.

The Woke Leader

The Latino Disconnect
Latinos are young, tech savvy, media consumers who comprise 17% of the U.S. population and command $1.5 trillion in buying power. Yet, according to a 40-page report from Columbia University’s Center for The Study of Ethnicity and Race, Latino consumers fare worse after major media mergers - as customers seeking diverse entertainment, but also as creative partners, suppliers, and in corporate leadership.
Columbia University

STEM survivor.
Kemar Newell is a Brooklyn born, self-professed sneakerhead, a first generation American who’s been coding since he was nine. Recruited out of Morehouse by Apple, and then on to Google, he exemplified "minority in tech" success. Then he left to start FLIP app, a dedicated marketplace for sneaker collectors and resellers. “After fighting my way through Apple and Google, to be real it was tough to go into rooms and not see other people who looked like me or relate to where I come from, but I also took that as what made me unique and I would argue it gave me a huge advantage over a lot of my peers.”

The continuum of protest.
Brown University’s "Choices Program" has published a free set of tools, informed by faculty scholarship, to help put the Black Lives Matters movement into historical context. The interactive timeline of facts, photos, and videos spans from the mid-1950s until today.
Brown University

To be young, gifted, and worried about race.
A recent poll of 2,057 teenagers ages 13 to 17 showed that 82% of American teens today believe racial discrimination is a problem for their generation, compared to 44% of teens in 1966. Should make for some pretty woke interns.



I’ve been thinking a lot about the millions of people being left behind in the United States through the ills of society, specifically racism in America. What is our responsibility to address that?
-- Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks