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raceAhead: Synchrony’s Margaret Keane: Everyone Can Be An Ally to Someone

June 21, 2018, 6:46 PM UTC

I spent a delightful morning with Sallie Krawcheck, Kristy Wallace, and the exceptional team behind the Ellevate Network’s annual Action Summit. This year’s theme is Mobilizing the Power of Women.

As I mentioned yesterday, I had a chance to talk with Margaret Keane, the President and CEO of Synchrony Financial, to help kickoff the event.

Keane, as one of the few women chief executives in the Fortune 500, has been thinking seriously about how to embed inclusive practices into the company since it spun out of GE Capital in July 2014. It’s a touchstone in chaotic times. “I can’t change the world,” she told the crowd. “But what I can change is how we treat employees inside the company; understanding what they’re going through when they walk outside of their house and come to our office.”

By way of example, she says, Synchrony was on board early in support of LGBTQ rights, decrying Charlotte’s “bathroom law,” that excluded gender identity and sexual orientation from anti-discrimination protections. Keane also showed up personally after the police shooting and riots in Charlotte, to participate in candid dialogs with employees there. “As CEOs we can’t just assume that what is happening in the outside world doesn’t work its way into the office.” When asked for advice on how people can handle these tough conversations she says, “I think the word that is missing a lot is kindness.”

But now, four years out from Synchrony’s IPO, it was a good time to look back and see what’s worked. “We had to think about the brand itself, coming out of GE, an iconic brand. Okay, what do we want to be?” Numerous town halls and long executive team meetings later, Keane set on a vision to become a more diverse and welcoming company that better reflected their customer base and the world at large.

She recruited a diverse board, created new inclusion networks like one to support employees with disabilities, and then — in a huge move — opened up all existing resource groups to hourly employees. Keane, who famously began her career in finance in a call center, says that it’s made a difference. “We want to be a place where people can grow,” she said. Hourly employees are a naturally more diverse group than “professional track” employees, and now have access to a two-year development program called STEP, which offers them training and exposure to other parts of the business. “About 70-75% get promoted out,” she says. “It’s been a big success, and it’s changing the face of our leaders and rewarding people who come to work every day and do a really good job.”

We ended on a poignant note.

We all have the power to be allies to each other, she says. “Women in the past didn’t always help each other,” a natural outgrowth of a competitive system where there was only one seat for a token woman at any given table. “Now, there’s a lot of power coming up in the pipeline and I think all of us have a responsibility to each other.”

But you have to wave your own flag.

“I’m going to give you one piece of advice. Take that little voice that’s in your head, write down what that voice is saying to you on a piece of paper, and then throw the paper away,” she said, to immediate laughter. “I think our biggest challenge is ourselves. We tend to constantly question ourselves – am I ready? Am I good enough?”

“Put that voice aside – go for the job, be clear about what you want,” she said. “The worst thing that happens is that you don’t get this job but you get the next one.” And don’t overlook the support that’s all around you. “There are people close by who want to help you,” she said. “Tell them what you want to do.”

On Point

The lost children of the foster care systemSince we’re having an extended national conversation about separating and re-uniting traumatized children, it’s worth noting that the U.S. does not have a stellar track record when it comes to keeping up with young people in their care. A review of federal records shows that more than 60,000 foster children are officially missing, and an additional 53,000 listed as runaways. These cases are officially closed, no one is looking for them. “Blame a lack of federal oversight, underfunded agencies straining under almost half a million children, high caseworker turnover — in some jurisdictions, staff turnover is as high as 90 percent a year — and a chilling indifference to the plight of foster children,” says author and foster parent Rene Denfield.Washington Post

Boz is not your chief diversity officer, by the way
After her surprise departure from her post as head of brand for Uber, Bozoma Saint John has been freed to talk candidly about her career so far. “The lack of a plan is probably the biggest blessing in my life… I’m really following my spirit,” she said in one of two public conversations at Cannes. But she also made it clear that looking to her to save anything, Uber specifically, was a fool’s errand. “Unless there is true inclusivity at all levels with all people it is actually not possible to change a culture,” she said. It was something she made clear when she was at the ride-sharing giant. People frequently asked her how she was going to fix the diversity problem at the company, she said. That wasn’t her job, she had to remind them. “I just happen to be a black woman, by God’s grace.”

Barbara Whye is a chief diversity officer, and she has some advice for you
In a tech sector that’s struggling to hang on to the few black employees they have – note Google’s recent and dismal diversity report - Intel has been an outlier. The chip maker may have just lost a CEO, but they’ve been able to grow their black population to 3.9 percent of their workforce, outpacing their peers. Barbara H. Whye, Intel's vice president of human resources and chief diversity and inclusion officer offered some candid thoughts to the Silicon Valley Business Journal and talked about some of what she's learned in her first year at the helm. One of her first acts was to survey underrepresented employees and ask them what it would take to keep them around. Two big learnings: First, sponsorship really matters, specifically to black women. And second, you can’t hire your way into changing the numbers. You've got to find a way to help employees safely share what's holding them back. (Subscription required.)
Silicon Valley Business Journal

Are you an always on, digital native who lives, eats and breathes social media?
Then do I have a problem for you! This installment of Exit Interview, a series from The Atlanic, a series about the many ways people leave their careers, explores the coded ways that hiring managers exclude media professionals over 50. This is the story of Gordon Rothman, who was laid off from his decades-long career at CBS News. He did great volunteer work in the non-profit sector, when that didn’t pan out into a job, he tried the job market. Despite his skills, he’s never gotten an offer. “The assumption is that the greater energy, drive, and willingness to work will come from younger applicants, and higher health-care expenditures are likely to come from older applicants,” he says. 
The Atlantic

The Woke Leader

The unbearable whiteness of being a charter school
Charter schools are interesting creatures. For one, they’re public and open to all. And in many cases, they’re free to be more innovative in hiring and programming. But some use their charters to limit the number of students they take in. And plenty of these schools, according to a new investigation from The Hechinger Report, the Investigative Fund, and NBC News, are creating white-only enclaves. The report identifies some 115 charter schools where the percentage of white students is at least 20 points higher than at any of the mainstream public schools in the districts they serve, a number which is considered “racially identifiable” in federal discrimination lawsuits. But in many schools, the percentage of white students is disproportionately higher.
Hechinger Report

On being Desus and Mero
Like many of you, I’ve become an avid fan of the comedians known as Desus Nice and the Kid Mero; their gleeful commentary on absolutely everything has become an essential reality check on a world seemingly gone mad. But unless you’re from a certain neighborhood, they’re the kind of funny that people don’t get to experience very often, particularly on television. Their show, currently shot on a low-rent set at the Vice office in Brooklyn, has become a breakthrough moment in late-night comedy. “[I]n a landscape in which black people dominate the culture but have few recognized channels to respond to it, the show, which stars two American black men, provides a venue for black authority in the mainstream,” writes Jazmine Hughes. And now, they’ve got a Showtime deal for just being themselves, basically. I’ll entice you to read this amazing profile with this one hilarious tidbit - Chris Hayes, the host of MSNBC’s “All in With Chris Hayes,” went to middle school with Desus, and they’re still friends.
New York Times

Romelu Lukaku would like your attention, please
Lukaku, the Belgian-born professional footballer who plays for Manchester United, has always been outspoken about the casual and not so casual racism that’s part of professional soccer and beyond. But in this poignant first-person account, he talks about his life, growing up as a black face in a white community, the son of a failed pro-footballer who became not just poor but completely broke. “I’d come home at night and the lights would be shut off. No electricity for two, three weeks at a time,” he said of his adolescence. It was then, at age six, he made a promise to be a success. “I remember sitting in the dark with my brother and my mom, saying our prayers, and thinking, believing, knowing … it’s going to happen.” By twelve, he was outscoring all other players, despite how the white Belgian parents on opposing teams treated him. “I scored them all wearing my dad’s shoes. Once our feet got to be the same size, we used to share,” he said. Worth your time.
Players Tribune


Civility is the coward’s favorite virtue.
Jelani Cobb