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raceAhead: Bringing Diversity to a Big Bank

Greg Cunningham, the new Vice President of Global Inclusion & Diversity at U.S. Bank, had barely been in his job six weeks when his CEO, Richard Davis, reached out for a specific piece of advice.

Philando Castile, a black motorist, had just been shot to death during a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minnesota. The incident, which had been live streamed on Facebook by Castile’s girlfriend, was shocking. But for the employees at the Bank’s headquarters, which is based in Minneapolis, the story hit close to home.

“He said to me ‘I feel like I need to say something and I don’t know what to say,’” recalls Cunningham. It was a chance for the new vice president to share his philosophy on difficult conversations. First rule: Don’t try to make it all better. “We’re hardwired as leaders to want to solve problems,” he says. “But when things like this happen, it’s not an opportunity to solve anything, it’s an opportunity to show up differently.”

Cunningham has been showing up since May, crisscrossing the country, holding candid conversations with U.S. Bank employees in their local habitats, listening to their needs and concerns in an effort to get everyone on board. “Transforming a culture of 67,000 people is never easy,” he says. “You have to make sure that everyone knows that there is something in this for them.”

At the heart of his pitch is the growing body of research that shows how diverse organizations perform better financially. From that perspective, everybody benefits. “Diverse organizations help everyone perform at a much higher level,” he says.

“Diversity and inclusion has historically been about the notion of fairness and equity,” he says. “But not everybody wants to come to grips with fairness.” To the many white men who have asked, with some trepidation, why there is no special employee group just for them, he reminds them that there is no underrepresentation of white men at the organization at any level, and they’re a historically advantaged group. “Nobody blinks at that,” he says. But the conversation shifts to the role that white men do play. “This work is about leading differently,” he says. “How do we listen differently? Talk to our teams differently?”

Cunningham says he’s learned a lot already. “You have to create a safe space where people can take off their Superman or woman capes and get to know each other better.” He always shares candidly about being young, awkward and black earlier in his corporate life, trying to model behaviors that weren’t natural to him. “I used to try to fit in like the white kid who went to Harvard,” says the Clark Atlanta graduate. He asks people to think about who is around them. “What does it mean to lead when you’re encouraging people to take their masks off?”

Though he’s unable to share specifics, Cunningham has set goals for hiring women and people of color, as well as attracting more diverse customers and suppliers. He updates the CEO and senior leaders every month.

And he’s thinking a lot about where the company intersects with the communities they serve. “What does it mean to make a difference where we do business?” In markets that have seen recent racial violence, like St. Louis, the conversations have been particularly meaningful, he says.

His advice for his peers sounds simple, but it’s not. “You have to be willing to create an emotional space for people to talk.” Everyone has stuff, so share yours. “People need to trust that you see them as human,” he says. “And stop trying to solve everything and just listen.”

On Point

Apple redefined diversity in an attempt to defend itselfLast week’s iPhone 7 launch was a typical Apple product spectacle, but a debacle for diversity: One reporter noted that women spoke on stage for a total eight minutes, compared to 99 minutes of speech by men. An Apple spokesperson responded: “There was a lot of diversity on that stage that you don’t recognize. Unrecognized by you was the fact that we had a gay man, two African-Americans, a Canadian, and a British woman, Hannah Catmur.” Canadian? Inc

Home Depot’s Ann-Marie Campbell believes in you
Ann-Marie Campbell is Home Depot’s new head of U.S. stores and No. 20 on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list. She has a big job ahead of her, leveraging the company’s e-tail platform while wringing more sales from their existing stores. But she’s really in the people business: The Jamaican immigrant, who started out 31 years ago as a part-time cashier, has an almost preternatural ability to understand and motivate the people who work for her.
Fortune

Brazil begins to evolve on race
There are few countries who have been as affected by the Atlantic slave trade than Brazil, which took in more African slaves than any other. And race is complicated in Brazil in ways that it isn’t other places – despite talk of progressive thinking, there are no black or brown people in government and the wage gap between the races is significantly wider than in the U.S. Today, new forms of post-colonial remedies are starting to take hold, which are changing the way the country views itself.
Economist

How to design a museum about African American history
The new National Museum of African American History and Culture, opening on September 24th, is being lauded for its physical beauty, as well as its collection. David Adjaye, the architect behind the new 400,000 square-foot building, spent years thinking about how to best frame the experience of Africans and African Americans through design. “I refused to see the African-American story as tragic,” says David Adjaye. “Instead, it is an extraordinary journey of overcoming, and shaping, what America is.”
Fast Company

The first large-scale job program for transgender people launches in California
Working with the California Restaurant Association, the new program will help transgender people find entry level jobs at restaurants across the state. The unemployment rate for transgender people is twice the rate of other Americans. For trans people of color, the jobless rate is even more grim.
KPCC

 

The Woke Leader

How Charles Schulz introduced a black character in Peanuts
After the death of Martin Luther King, a devoted Charlie Brown fan named Mrs. Glickman wrote to Charles Schulz asking him to introduce a black character into his work. “In thinking over the areas of the mass media which are of tremendous importance in shaping the unconscious attitudes of our kids,” she wrote. “I felt that something could be done through our comic strips.” His response, and their ongoing relationship, is utterly delightful.
Flashbak

A beloved literary non-fiction magazine publishes a special issue on race
Brevity Magazine has assembled an all-star cast of essayists, editors and artists to examine the lived experience of race, and all the intersections – class, gender, language and ability. There is something here for everyone, but I’d point you to an essay from Roxane Gay on being black in the Midwest, and Deesha Philyaw’s “A Pop Quiz for White Women.”
Brevity Magazine

 
There actually is a black national anthem
Lift Every Voice and Sing was written in 1900 to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s birth and quickly became known as the “Negro National Hymn.” Said the lyricist, James Weldon Johnson: “The lines of this song repay me in an elation, almost of exquisite anguish, whenever I hear them sung by Negro children.” It’s quite beautiful.
Poetry Foundation

Quote

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us. Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till victory is won.
—James Weldon Johnson