How CEOs Plan to Make Work Better: RaceAhead

June 11, 2019, 8:57 PM UTC

One of the signs that the Fortune CEO Initiative — a community of CEOs working to address pressing social issues as part of their core businesses — is working, is the fact that the participants themselves have given me a “to-write” list, to help keep the conversations going.

So, dear reader, you can expect a series of stories or resources, complete with expert commentary, on how to make boards more diverse, organizations more welcoming to employees of every background, and the media (yes, the media) more willing to dig deeper to tell stories about what’s working in the world.

So, raceAhead is going to have a busy summer.

While I help wrap up this year’s meeting which ends today, please enjoy my exceptional conversation with Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat. He explained the firm’s challenging work to reach their inclusion goals this way: “Where our industry has fallen short before is the organic, sustainable piece of it,” he said. “I think we’ve been okay at bringing women and minorities into the firm, but I don’t think we’ve created the environment that creates the sustainability of them wanting to be there.”

More from the CEOI, as summarized by Tamara El-Waylly, below. :

Speaking from Fortune’s CEO Initiative, executives described the numerous challenges they face when it comes to implementing A.I.As Erika Fry reports from the conference: “companies big and small are scrambling to deploy artificial intelligence.” And with that effort comes retraining, restructuring and, when it comes to ensuring diversity, dealing with “skewed A.I. algorithms.” The CFA Institute’s CEO Paul Smith emphasized that some industries are “massively biased to begin with. It’s very hard to screen out bias.” The failure to differentiate A.I. from “the same biases, issues, and underperformance” of humans, said Patrick Cogny, a Genpact senior executive, means companies lose out on the “potential of A.I.” As Lorraine Hariton, president and CEO of the nonprofit Catalyst, pointed out, it’s essential to ensure bias doesn’t seep into the process by focusing on “diverse and inclusive teams.” But these challenges are only exacerbated in smaller companies, private equity firm Grain Management’s CEO David Grain pointed out, given the speed at which A.I. is developing.

Microsoft’s Brad Smith discussed how shifting political and public attitudes mean more are viewing the “hipster version” of antitrust in an increasingly positive light, writes Fortune’s Jeff John Roberts, who pegged these comments to a larger discussion on “tech companies responsibility to confront social issues.” For Microsoft, taking more responsibility on such issues has manifested into efforts to address the housing crisis in tech hubs, Smith said. The company recently invested $500 million on expanding housing in Seattle, for example. Smith also pointed to facial recognition, “the first real concrete application of artificial intelligence,” he said, as another major issue. The technology, which Microsoft recently denied California police access to, remains unregulated in the U.S. with the exception of San Francisco. Regulation of facial recognition will occur at the local levels first, Smith predicted, as he foresees that federal regulation will lag behind.

Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, believes political divisions and “great economic and technological disruption” are “fundamentally linked,” reports Fortune’s Robert Hackett. It all “roots down to this skills issue,” she said. The skills divide, fostered by the digital revolution, must be bridged so that all can participate, Rometty said. She added: “The system has got to work for everyone.” IBM, as Hackett writes, has already made efforts towards that through P-tech, an education program developed to “cultivate talent,” particularly among minority communities. The initiative has only grown since its creation in 2011, and includes some 500 companies.

Here’s to making business better for everyone.

On Point

Who knew? YouTube purge of racist speech also purges anti-racism contentToday in unintended consequences, a campaign to remove extremist content from the YouTube platform has also caught educational material in its web. In one instance, a video published by the Southern Poverty Law Center with an interview debunking a Holocaust denier and an academic video from Cal State San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism also disappeared. Some of the content has been returned, but the center’s director Brian Levin say that YouTube’s motives were “positive and well-intended,” but the execution has been botched, he toldthe Los Angeles Times.Los Angeles Times

Canada offers a third choice for gender on passports and official documents
Canada is now allowing citizens who don’t identify as male or female to choose “X” on their passports, travel documents, and citizenship cards. “Canadian citizens and residents deserve to be respected and have the opportunity to live according to their own identity,” the government said in a statement. Anyone who wants to replace or update their documents can do so without fee until June 4, 2020. Click through for more information on how the Canadian government is modernizing their gender information practices.


On Background

The problem with history books in the U.S.
Anyone who teaches school, has gone to school, or plans to hire someone who went to school in the U.S., will be dismayed by this candid review of some 3,000 U.S. history textbooks, dating from about 1800 to the 1980s. It turns out, there’s a reason why racism runs so deep. “Without intending, I had become engaged in a study of how abolitionism, race, slavery, and the Civil War and Reconstruction have been taught for generations,” reports Donald Yacovone of his grim exercise. “Across time and with precious few exceptions, African-Americans appeared only as ‘ignorant negroes,’ as slaves, and as anonymous abstractions that only posed ‘problems’ for the supposed real subjects of history: white people of European descent.”
Chronicle of Higher Education

The Muslim tradition of science and speculative fiction
Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad has a wonderful resume: he’s a senior data scientist at Groupon, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Washington. He is also an inventor and artist. And he’s proud of the long Muslim tradition of speculative writing and fiction, begun during the Islamic Golden Age (8th to 13th centuries) and designed, in part, to explore the human challenges of cultural integration during a time of rapid territorial expansion. He says the first Arabic novel, Alive, Son of Awake, was about a child raised on a remote island by a gazelle, with no access to human culture until he meets a castaway. Please credit the Muslim world for an early entrance into feminist fiction, with Sultana’s Dream, a 1905 feminist tract set in a world called ‘Ladyland.’

On being black in Nova Scotia and celebrating Canada’s difficult history
Once upon a time, begins journalist Denise Balkissoon, there was a place called Africville. It had been a small but important neighborhood in Nova Scotia, razed by the government in the mid-1960s for the land it sat on. All that’s left is a tiny museum, all heart and no power. “People who lived there are still alive,” she says. “There's a 72-year-old named Eddie Carvery who hangs out in a trailer outside the museum every day, unwilling to leave without reparations.” This is the danger of anniversaries, she explains, as Canada celebrates the 150thbirthday of the Confederation this year. It’s the reconsideration of heroes like Edward Cornwallis who founded Halifax, “and who encouraged the genocide of the Mi'kmaq who already inhabited the place he wanted to found.” She gathered a series of stories over a weekend spent visiting with black Nova Scotians to learn about what their lives were like then and now. “They moved them out in city garbage trucks," said one about the Africville destruction. The museum commemorating the neighborhood is totally isolated from the community. “There's no bus that comes down here."
The Globe and Mail

Tamara El-Waylly helps produce raceAhead and assisted in the preparation of today's summaries.


In my generation there were no black chief executives, there were no women chief executives. [I got here by] not accepting other people’s’ framing of what I was capable of [and consistently] elbowing my way to the table.
—Ron Williams, former CEO, Aetna

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