Are diversity quotas a punishment for failure?

September 29, 2020, 9:40 AM UTC

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Good morning.

Ursula Burns has never hesitated to speak her mind.  She rose to the top job at Xerox—where she served for seven years as the first and only black woman ever to head a Fortune 500 company—by speaking her mind. And she is at it again, insisting that corporate boards get serious about their lack of racial diversity.

Ellen McGirt and I interviewed Burns for our podcast Leadership Next (Apple/Spotify). She was on fire—even suggesting quotas may be needed to solve the problem. I’ve known Burns for a long time, and told her my recollection was she had always opposed quotas.  Her response:

I’m still not high on the notion of quotas. But I think we may have earned our comeuppance. I actually was under the impression that when you know you have a challenge, that you have a gap, you do some studies, you put your best minds to it, and most of the time, business solves problems…. What has happened, though, is that we have failed, across the board. And every year we say, oh my God, it’s a problem, we still haven’t met it…So now, what else do you do? You bring other forces to bear.” 

Quotas, she said, are the punishment for failure.

Burns also said we are at a “make or break moment” for business and society—driven by a toxic mix of inequality, environmental challenge, the pandemic, George Floyd’s murder, all hitting at once. “Everything is changing.”

By the way, we usually avoid politics in these interviews. But Burns had some characteristically candid advice for how CEOs should vote in the U.S. election. You can listen to the full interview of Ursula unleashed here: Apple/Spotify.

Burns will be talking about board diversity at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, which begins today—virtually. Among those attending will be a who’s who of top female CEOs, including  GM’s Mary Barra, Northrop Grumman’s Kathy Warden, Citi’s (soon-to-be-CEO) Jane Fraser, Accenture’s Julie Sweet, Edward Jones’ Penny Pennington, Guardian’s Deanna Mulligan, Ulta’s Mary Dillon, Ariel’s Mellody Hobson, Ancestry’s Margo Georgiadis, Carbon’s Ellen Kullman, Nextdoor’s Sarah Friar, Magic Leap’s Peggy Johnson, and more. They are allowing me to join Thursday to interview IBM Executive Chair Ginni Rometty on the massive challenge of reskilling the workforce for the coming wave of technological change—a topic she discussed on Leadership Next in this episode.

More news below.

Alan Murray


TikTok authority

The Trump administration's thus-far-thwarted attempt to block TikTok downloads is probably an overstep of the authority granted under national security law, according to the judge who granted a preliminary injunction against the measure on Sunday. Judge Carl Nichols' ruling was made public yesterday. Wall Street Journal

Android apps

Google says it will next year make it easier for Android users to use third-party app stores, of the sort of people now need to use in order to download apps such as Fortnite that are barred from Google's own Play Store. At the same time, Google also said it wasn't backing down on the forced use of the Google Play billing system for purchases made in apps distributed through the Play Store (this being the issue that irked Fortnite maker Epic, leading to the app's removal from the Play Store.) The Verge

JPMorgan WFH

JPMorgan has told its senior Wall Street traders to get back to their workplace, but workers in its consumer unit (except for branch workers and some in operations) can continue working from home. CEO Jamie Dimon is keen to see a broader return to work, but has left it up to individual business leaders to steer their staff on the issue. Fortune

Brexit mitigation

The U.K.'s carmakers and lenders have joined forces to try to protect the industry's supply chain from the twin assault of the pandemic and a likely no-deal Brexit. Troubled suppliers would be able to get improved payment terms from carmakers such as Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover if they ask for them, and lenders would provide financial assistance if needed. Bloomberg


New BP

Investors don't seem to be buying into BP's increasingly detailed plans to reinvent itself as a low-carbon giant, as this piece from Fortune's Katherine Dunn explains (and as continues to be apparent this morning, with BP's share price down 2.3% at the time of writing.) The same applies to other European energy majors such as Shell, Equinor and Total—their U.S. peers are generally doubling down on fossil fuels.  Fortune

Voter suppression

The U.K.'s Channel 4 News obtained a database used by President Trump's digital campaign team in the last election, and discovered that 3.5 million Black Americans were sorted into a "Deterrence" category, meaning they were to be discouraged from showing up to vote. Other ethnicities were also included in the category, but it was mostly people of color. There is no public record of the Facebook ads these people were shown based on their categorization. Channel 4

Eating plastic

There's been another breakthrough in the research of plastic-eating bacteria. Remember the super-enzyme that was engineered a couple years back? Scientists have now created a new version that degrades plastic bottles six times faster, and that could be deployed within the next couple years. Guardian

Amy Coney Barrett

Three historical cases give some insight into the opinions of Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump's nominee to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Supreme Court seat. Fortune's Emma Hinchliffe runs through the implications: Coney Barrett is a strong opponent of abortion rights; she has implied that taking sexual misconduct seriously could lead to sex discrimination against men; and she believes felons' gun rights should only be restricted if their crimes were violent. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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