Bloomberg Breakaway CEO Think Tank: Getting it Right the First Time

July 1, 2020

Members in the Bloomberg Breakaway Network convened for a candid dialogue about how CEOs are navigating difficult conversations around social justice issues; what advice they can share on making sure the message is the right one at the right time; and how to get that message out in a way that is sincere, direct and unambiguous.

Here’s what they had to say.

PARTICIPANTS

  • Dr. Iman Abuzeid, CEO and Co-founder, Incredible Health
  • Donnovan Andrews, Founder & CEO, Overture Global
  • Alvaro Baltodano, CEO & Founder, Integra Group
  • Russell Dubner, President and CEO, Edelman U.S., Edelman
  • Y-Vonne Hutchinson, CEO & Founder, ReadySet
  • Floyd Kephart, Chairman, The Renaissance Companies
  • Karl Kilb, CEO, Boloro Global Limited
  • Jeff Lindor, Founder & CEO, The Gentlemen’s Factory
  • Simon Loopuit, CEO, Trust-hub
  • Kenneth Makovsky, Founder & CEO, Makovsky
  • Kathryn Minshew, Founder & CEO, The Muse
  • David Rosenthal, VP & GM, Razor Technology
  • Alan Slatas, Managing Director, Galt and Company
  • Sanjay Viswanathan, Chairman and Managing Partner, Adi Partners
  • Rosa Whitaker, President & CEO, The Whitaker Group
  • Laila Worrell, CEO, Altran North America, Altran
  • Sheena Wright, President & CEO, United Way of NYC


MODERATED BY

  • Carol Massar, Host, Bloomberg Breakaway, and Co-Host, Bloomberg Businessweek TV and Radio
  • Chris Michel, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Americas, Bloomberg


Goals and accountability
Should there be quotas? Yes, but with caveats. Some participants took issue with the word “quotas”, noting that this is loaded language. But targets and goals that can be measured are concepts few CEOs can argue with.

“If you don’t set targets, it’s really easy to be toothless about your goals,” said Kathryn Minshew. “We’ve been really deliberate about setting targets — you affect what you measure.”

Y-Vonne Hutchinson added that accountability and responsibility are also vital for ensuring that goals are met. Bloomberg’s Chris Michel agreed, adding that a lack of process and accountability around goals can encourage bad behaviors. “You have people say, ‘Well I’m going to take the first Black person I see and put them in this job,’ and that person goes in there, possibly unqualified, and fails, then that provides justification the rest of the way out for that person to say, ‘I’ll never put a Black person in this seat again.’ So you have to be careful about making sure that accountability is there and the processes and systems are in place,” said Michel.

Alvaro Baltodano said that business leaders should also be accountable for bringing education on these issues into their companies. “The real problem is education,” said Baltodano. “We work from the bottom to the top, from the top of the bottom, to teach [our employees] how to include.”

“For me, it comes back to education, access and financial inclusion,” agreed Karl Kilb. Sanjay Viswanathan added, “If you want to change mindsets, if there is a way we can go down to education, [we can] start to affect a generation.” 

An extinction-level event
“We have to get past semantics really, really quickly,” said Donnovan Andrews, as a recent report showed that 41% of Black-owned businesses have failed due to Covid-19.

Sheena Wright put this point to further context: “When you really drill down and realize that before Covid-19, only 2% of businesses in the city of New York were Black-owned, then you realize what you’re talking about is an extinction-level event.” If you don’t have a response that is focused on the outcomes you want to achieve, you will fail. Being clear about the data and the numbers is important, and public-private partnerships are very important as well. Corporate institutions have a responsibility to address systemic inequities, but in partnership with governments and the nonprofit sector.

Floyd Kephart said leadership is necessary for these public-private partnerships to work. “All of this starts with leadership,” and if there’s no leadership at a private or public level, then all of a sudden you’re playing the numbers game without making any difference. “You don’t provide short-term solutions to long-term problems. This is a generational problem. This is inherited from generations and will take a generation to solve.” You need very set targets about how we can use private money to support education, bring people along and ensure upward mobility in government and private industry. Those public-private policies — if they have leadership attached — can make a difference.

Redefining meritocracy and changing mindsets
Laila Worrell stressed that we must be careful about how we define merit, as the standard for merit has been set by the dominant class in business, which is largely white male. People of color see similar unconscious bias in discussions of merit that women have seen under this standard for the definition of a meritocracy.

“Mindsets must change. For there to be a true meritocracy, you must consider all people,” said Michel. He said you’re seeing some very prominent executives in business who are shifting mindsets and have the ability to drive real change, like Blackstone’s Larry Fink. “When you have a guy like Larry Fink come out and say, ‘three years from now i want 30% of my workforce to be Black’, that can have a real impact.”

“What’s encouraging about this moment that I haven’t seen before is that people are specially naming that they were really uncomfortable to name before,” said Hutchinson. She stressed while we seek solutions for economic justice and broader issues, we must recognize that anti-Black racism is a particular problem, especially in the United States, and that statistics reflect systemic bias and inequity more than a lack of education and pipeline. Jeff Lindor agreed: “We said before that the root of the problem is poverty; I would say that the root of the problem is racism and poverty is its child.”

Ken Makovsky echoed this point, pointing out that the concept of systemic racism is being better understood and discussed. “It has awoken many people to that problem — what does systemic racism mean? If we don’t understand the problem, it’s hard to attack,” said Makovsky.

Diversity and inclusion is good business
Russell Dubner said that more than 65% of people expect brands to take action and speak out at least as it relates to social justice. So there’s much more to be gained by standing up for this moral imperative than running from it. Dubner said they’re not advising clients to wait until they get it 100% right to get out in front of these issues.

“If you wait, what are you going to wait for? If you’re being inclusive with your employees first and foremost, and listening to them, you’re going to have deep empathy. As long as your employees are with you, you can be much more assertive in the markets,” said Dubner.

Andrews also noted the imperative toward action. “We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said. It’s going to be important for anyone in a position of leadership to support candidates of color and businesses led by people of color, to help combat the multiple impacts of Covid-19, the coming second wave of Covid-19 and continued systemic racism.

Dr. Iman Abuzeid hopes corporate America will move from “it’s the right thing to do” to “it’s the data-driven thing to do,” as research shows that diversity drives business results, more diverse teams perform better, make better decisions and move faster. “If, as business leaders, we’re looking out for shareholder value, then it’s actually required to have a diverse team, if you’re trying to maximize your results,” said Abuzeid.


About Bloomberg Breakaway
Bloomberg Breakaway is a membership of CEOs and founders who lead sizable businesses with an appetite for growth. Members receive exclusive benefits from Bloomberg including data and intelligence and invitations exclusive virtual and in-person gatherings throughout the year. For more information about Bloomberg Breakaway, visit our website at BloombergLIVE.com/breakaway or contact Michael Forbes at mforbes24@bloomberg.net.