The CEOs of PayPal and SAP Say That Diversity Is Non-Negotiable

October 16, 2018, 3:07 PM UTC

Diversity and a clear expression of a corporation’s values are more important than ever, two leading tech CEO’s said the Fortune Global Forum on Tuesday.

While diversity, whether on a gender or ethnic or any other basis, gets a lot of press nowadays and stirs often contentious debate, it is a corporate imperative that also ultimately means better financial performance, they said.

“It’s wild to me that we’re still having the conversation around women in leadership,” Bill McDermott, CEO of German tech giant SAP (SAP) at the conference in Toronto. “There is so much talent and we don’t talk about women leadership: we just talk about leaders and if they happen to be women, that’s great.” McDermott noted that SAP has doubled the number of women in management roles in the last five years.

And leaders and corporate boards have to set the tone so that a company’s entire workforce understands diversity is a strategic cornerstone.

“It starts at the very top,” PayPal CEO Dan Schulman said. “There’s no negotiation around it. We will be stronger as a result.” Schulman also quoted the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau (and father of current Canadian leader Justin Trudeau) who once said that “diversity is fact, but inclusion is a choice.”

And that choice can sometimes lead a company to tread into tricky social issues. In early 2017, PayPal (PYPL) canceled plans to open a new facility in North Carolina after the state government there passed a controversial law related to the use of bathrooms by transgender individuals the company saw as targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

“It was a galvanizing moment for us because basically the values on the wall came alive,” Schulman recognized, even as he said he didn’t expect everyone in the company to share those values as individuals.

But as many social issues continue to buffet major corporations, CEO’s will have to continue to speak up and clearly articulate a company’s values, he said.

“I don’t think businesses can avoid the issues of our day. There is a moral responsibility to step up, to be part of the solution,” PayPal’s Schulman said.

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