AT&T Business CEO Anne Chow won’t back down to Asian hate, and she’s urging other leaders to stand firm in their own convictions

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Anne Chow, CEO of AT&T Business
Anne Chow, the CEO of AT&T Business, told Insider that the number of women in Fortune 500 CEO positions was “unacceptable.”

  • Anne Chow, the CEO of AT&T Business, has faced prejudice and bias throughout her career.
  • She’s using her platform to speak out against Asian hate and get more women of color in leadership.
  • In an Equity Talk, Chow shares her advice for the next generation of CEOs.

As the CEO of the business arm of the telecommunications giant AT&T, Anne Chow is often insulated from the outside world by a league of assistants. But that doesn’t mean she’s immune to racism, sexism, or prejudice.

In her ascension to the coveted CEO seat, she’s been talked over in meetings and faced doubts about her leadership and public-speaking abilities. The hardest part of her career, she said, wasn’t the sacrifice the work called for. Instead, it was soldiering on through implicit and explicit bias from colleagues.

“I think there’s an assumption that because I’m a CEO, I don’t run into any of these problems,” Chow told Insider. “It’s so not true.”

A Cornell-educated engineer turned business executive, Chow continues to endure such microaggressions as remarks about how “articulate” and “good at public speaking” she is. People still ask her, “Where are you really from?”

“I’ll get those until the day I die,” Chow, who is AT&T’s first woman of color to serve as a CEO, said. “I have always had to be conscious about managing people’s perception of me.”

Her history dealing with bias has fueled an insatiable desire to help other professionals from marginalized backgrounds. Since taking the helm of her company in 2019, Chow has put AT&T on course to increase the representation of women and people of color in leadership positions. When she started, women made up 36% of all leaders, and people of color made up 39%. Women now make up just under 40% of all leaders, and people of color make up 41%, according to a 2020 report.

Before she became CEO, Chow created a mentorship and sponsorship program for women of color at the company. Because of her, over 400 women of color have expanded their professional opportunities within the company or have been promoted as a result. During her 31-year tenure at AT&T, Chow has held several high-profile roles, including president, senior vice president, and assistant vice president.

With plans to continue increasing diversity in leadership, Chow is “looking to move all of this representation forward, strategically,” she said.

In the latest installment of The Equity Talk, I talked to Chow about her recent condemnation of Asian hate, lessons from last year, and the wisdom she’s imparting to the next generation of CEOs.

Interview edited and condensed.

In March, after a string of anti-Asian attacks, you penned a moving letter against Asian hate. You wrote, “What we do today will shape generations to come. It’s time to listen. It’s time to seek to understand. It’s time to engage and take action.” What moved you to speak out at that time?

That piece came from my heart. I felt like I needed to write these thoughts down. As an Asian American person, I’m having all these emotions and issues go through my mind: anger and frustration. I felt I needed to represent my community.

Then, as a leader, as a CEO who happens to be Asian, I realized I have this platform that can be used to increase awareness, catalyze change. That also compelled me to write it.

I was nervous to put this out there. It was raw. But I have no regrets.

I heard from one of my employee’s daughters after I published that piece. She’s 16. This girl, who was trying to work through her own identity and feeling biased against, said she found my piece relatable and inspiring. That’s why I wrote the piece, because I don’t want anybody to have to think they’re alone in what they’re experiencing.

Tell me about your greatest accomplishment in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

One of the things I’m most proud of creating is the Women of Color program. I started noticing a trend both inside my company and outside of my company. Women were making notable progress in the workforce. But women of color were not.

Then, LinkedIn and McKinsey came out with their Women in the Workplace report in 2016. So finally, when those reports started coming out, it had the data that proved exactly what I was observing. It says something like, “When a company focuses on women only, women of color are left behind.” So I went to our chief diversity officer and I said, “We have to do something.”

We got together and looked over the research and pulled together a focus group of women of color – Black, Latina, Asian, Native American. Those sessions were cathartic. There was so much commonality in the stories. It was a moment of realizing we had to do something about the prejudice and bias women of color face.

We developed a Women of Color initiative back in 2017. We’ve had some 400 women and their supervisors participate. We work with supervisors on what it means to support a woman of color in her profession. For me, I think it’s one of the greatest legacies that I will leave behind at this company.

How were you personally impacted by the tumultuous year of 2020?

In 2020, with the trigger points of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, I, like so many others, wanted to figure out how to lean in and do something. I gathered a group of my Black leaders that I trusted to tell me the truth. I had several discussions on what I could do. One idea was leading through authentic communication. So we created this series called “Candid Conversations.”

We’ve talked about the Black professional experience. We’ve talked about racial trauma. I had a fireside chat with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi on how to be an anti-racist. We’ve had conversations with the LGBTQ+ community, the Asian community, the Latino and Hispanic communities, and conversations around parenting. We need to have compelling, candid conversations.

The next one we are doing is going to be with law enforcement. Because this whole thing about defunding the police and the polarization between Black and blue is just not right. We have a deep-rooted commitment to public safety and to serving and enabling law enforcement as our customers. So you know, we’re going to tackle that conversation because not only is law enforcement a constituency to us as a business, it’s important to us in general, right? Whether you’re talking to the FBI, the police, the military, they’re important. So that’s going to be our next conversation. I want normalize the ability to have a conversation in a safe environment.

What’s your advice for the next generation of corporate executives?

I’d say that you should surround yourself with as much difference from you as possible and listen more than you speak.

You also have to really ensure that you have a clear articulation of your company values and your company mission. Because this shouldn’t and this cannot be a side thing. It can’t feel like diversity is compliance. My hope is that you know, triggered by the pandemic and this reckoning, there’s this realization that change doesn’t just happen in the public sector. It has to happen in the private sector, too.

Our future as a country is diverse. So the question becomes, do we lean into it and do we harness it as an advantage for our organizations and our communities? Or do we not? Embracing diversity is a business imperative to your workforce, your customers, and your partners.

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Andy Jassy’s empathetic return-to-office memo is a leadership case study in how to manage uncertainty, Fortune 500 consultants say

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy motions with his hands on stage at the GeekWire Summit.
Andy Jassy, Amazon’s CEO, sent out his latest company-wide memo on Monday.

  • Earlier this week, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy sent a company-wide memo explaining return-to-office plans.
  • Fortune 500 communications consultants analyzed the memo for Insider.
  • They said Jassy displayed transparency and empathy – key ingredients when managing uncertainty.

The pandemic fundamentally changed where and how we work, and CEOs – including Amazon’s Andy Jassy – are still grappling with how to communicate uncertainties to their teams.

In a recent company-wide memo, Jassy nimbly explained why Amazon’s leadership has taken so long to decide when employees should return to the office. He declared that decisions on who would return to the office and how often would be made by team leaders. The letter follows similar notes from other top companies, such as Apple, Google, and PwC, that have been rolling out their own return-to-office policies.

Communications consultants who work with Fortune 500 companies said Jassy’s memo was a case study in transparency and navigating uncharted territory.

Suzanne Bates, the author of “Speak Like a CEO” and a managing director and partner at the leadership consultancy BTS, called the memo a blueprint for other companies seeking to mitigate a crisis.

“It’s powerful, timely, authentic, and empathetic,” Bates said. “It’s a lesson in that you can’t just make a decision if you want employee buy-in and leave it at that. You have to explain your reasoning, your process.”

Showcasing transparency

As with many companies, Amazon has delayed its decision on returning to the office. In June, employees were told they’d have an answer in September. Then the decision was delayed until January 2022. Jassy began the memo by acknowledging the back-and-forth and empathizing with employees who are coping with paralyzing uncertainty. This is an effort to reestablish trust, Bates said.

“We’ve never been through something like this before, and hope we never encounter it again,” Jassy wrote in the 850-word memo. “When are we really going back to the office, what will that really be like, how will I allocate my time between the office and home, how will others do it?”

When employees “see a question that looks like a question they’ve been asking, they know that the CEO is hearing the voice of the employee,” Bates said. “They think, ‘The CEO is attuned to what we’re talking about.'”

Eric Yaverbaum, the CEO of Ericho Communications, mentioned how Jassy then pivoted to showing vulnerability. Jassy said that he, like many leaders, didn’t have all the answers.

“Look, there are a lot of question marks. And he outlines those. He gives people context. What he methodically lays out is his direction, while leaving room to make adjustments,” Yaverbaum said. “That’s a smart move.”

Both Bates and Yaverbaum said that in a time of such uncertainty, it’s important for a leader to showcase their process of thinking. It may reassure those who might feel as though the situation is out of their control.

Delegation and gratitude

The central question of the memo – when will workers be able to return to the office? – is expected to be determined by directors. Bates said that having the actual decisions be made on a team-by-team basis gives employees the feeling of more agency.

If employees feel like they have no voice in a process, it creates chaos, she said. Jassy delegating that responsibility to managers gives employees the chance to have a say in the process.

In a situation that’s evolving in real time, delegating is a powerful tool for leaders, Bates and Yaverbaum said. Both consultants also agreed that Jassy clearly and carefully outlined the next steps. He asked employees to have patience, thanked them, and gave a specific date by which they would hear about new developments.

“Leadership has got to be empathetic. If you’re not understanding life through the lens of everyone else, you’re not going to get very far,” Yaverbaum said. “His memo shows empathy.”

Bates said Jassy could have mentioned that he’s still concerned about on-the-ground workers’ safety. She said including that specific topic would be her only tweak.

“Overall, this memo is a really good guideline for CEOs to pay attention to,” she added. “They should ask themselves the question: ‘Are we communicating this way enough with our employees?'”

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Every month is Hispanic Heritage Month for this Google exec. Here’s how one Latina is making the tech giant more inclusive.

Perla Campos at laptop
Perla Campos, the head of global marketing for Google Doodles, is the proud daughter of a Mexican immigrant to the US.

  • Perla Campos leads marketing for Google Doodles, which changes Google’s logo for special occasions.
  • Campos is also a proud Latina who describes her job as “making people feel seen and heard.”
  • For Hispanic Heritage Month, Campos shared her background and her inclusive mission.

During the early years of Perla Campos’ life, her mother, a Mexican immigrant and single parent, shuffled from job to job. When she wasn’t working as a custodian in the town’s elementary school, she was cleaning houses on the weekends. Campos would help her mom vacuum floors and wipe down countertops until they sparkled.

Having grown up in rural Granbury, Texas, Campos never imagined she’d work at one of the most important companies of the 21st century: Google. She thought working in corporate America would be perceived as selling out, as betraying her culture for a job. Whether it’s over leaving their families to attend college or choosing careers that fulfill them but rattle tradition, the guilt surrounding career choices that many children of immigrants encounter is a well-documented phenomenon.

“So much blood, sweat, and tears went into me having the opportunities that I have,” Campos said. “My ancestors, my community, my mom – I cannot let that be in vain. So for me it was, whatever I do, I need to help my people. I need to help my community and communities that have similar plights.”

And as the head of global marketing for Google Doodles since 2016, Campos has done right by that commitment. Google Doodles is responsible for altering the site’s homepage banner to celebrate people, places, and milestones that shaped global culture. Campos makes a point to highlight people of color, women, those with disabilities, and others who have been written out of history textbooks. In that way, she is staying true to herself and her background. This Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15, her job has been even more gratifying.

A Google Doodle celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month
Google’s “Celebrating Dr. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde” doodle, created by guest artist Loris Lora.

“My job is to make people feel seen, feel heard, and feel valued,” she said. “It can be really powerful for someone to see the homepage of Google, which for many people is the front door of the internet, and see a part of their culture being celebrated.”

To kick off Hispanic Heritage Month this year, Google commissioned Latina guest artist Loris Lora to create a Google Doodle of influential Panamanian American nurse Ildaura Murillo-Rohde. For each doodle, Campos and her team work with relevant employee resource groups (such as the Latino ERG group) to discuss ideas with an eye toward inclusion. They also commission artists from marginalized communities and partner with dozens of cultural experts to ensure accuracy.

“It’s about including people from different backgrounds at every level, focusing on intersectionality, having conversations with people from the respective communities,” she said. “It’s about being authentic.”

Perla Campos with her mom
Campos and her mom have always embraced their Latina roots.

Google has a recent track record of investing in communities of color. This month, the company invested $1 million to the nonprofit Hispanic Federation, which funds workforce development and digital training programs for the community, building on its 2019 investments. Google also partnered with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities to provide $2 million to over 35 Hispanic-serving educational institutions.

In 2012, Campos began her career at Google with an internship. The opportunity, a career game changer for most, threw Campos into an existential crisis. She had previously worked in the nonprofit world as an intern documenting the experiences of Mexican youth, and she assisted Stanford University’s center on race and ethnicity in research. Campos’ career revolved around social justice, and she wondered whether all of that work, as well as her immigrant roots, would be wasted in the corporate world. But then she had a life-changing moment.

She was in a meeting with executives talking about strategies to help small and medium businesses grow. Campos felt there was a lack of diversity in their approach and decided to speak up. To her surprise, the executives welcomed her advice.

Over the next eight years, Campos climbed the corporate ladder to the executive position she now holds. Along the way, she’s helped marginalized communities feel seen and heard through the doodles and stories she’s helped produce. She also feels confident that she’s staying true to her Mexican and immigrant roots, as well as to her calling to help her people.

“There’s so much intersectionality in the histories and the struggles and the beauty of all of these communities worldwide,” she said. “So to work in a role where I’m actively thinking about that, because I have lived that, is really powerful.”

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The ex-CEO of Pepsi said asking for a raise is ‘cringeworthy’

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi
Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi

  • Indra Nooyi, Pepsi’s CEO from 2006 to 2018, told NYT she finds asking for a raise “cringeworthy.”
  • “I cannot imagine working for somebody and saying my pay is not enough,” Nooyi said.
  • Research has found women ask for raises as much as men, but men are more “successful” with their requests.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The former CEO of PepsiCo never asked for a raise while at the company’s helm.

Indra Nooyi, Pepsi’s chief executive between 2006 and 2018, said in a recent interview she did not ask the company’s board of directors for a raise while CEO.

Nooyi said she even refused a raise the board offered her because she felt uncomfortable taking one during the financial crisis.

“I’ve never, ever, ever asked for a raise,” Nooyi told The New York Times. “I find it cringeworthy. I cannot imagine working for somebody and saying my pay is not enough.”

When asked whether Nooyi’s refusal to ask for a raise was gendered, Nooyi said “it’s just me.” The executive explained that because she did not grow up with much money, she and her husband did not upgrade their house while she served as CEO.

The Times noted that Nooyi received more than $31 million in compensation during her last full year at Pepsi.

Nooyi said she bought the land and properties near her house so no one would build a “gigantic mansion,” and allowed neighbors to walk around the empty space.

Nooyi grew up in Chennai, India, and attended two of the country’s most prestigious universities. She consistently ranked as one of Fortune’s most influential women in business during her time at PepsiCo.

On average, women in business ask for raises and promotions more than men, according to research from McKinsey and Lean In. But when women negotiate, their bosses view them as “intimidating,” “too aggressive,” or “bossy.”

In 2018, Harvard Business Review published a report that found women ask for raises as much as men, but men are more “successful” with their requests, with a success rate of 15% for women and 20% for men.

PepsiCo was not immediately available for comment.

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Black and Hispanic mothers face dangerous hurdles during pregnancy – the CEO of a $1 billion startup is on a mission to change that

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Maven CEO Kate Ryder plays with her children
Maven CEO and founder Kate Ryder built a healthcare startup valued at over $1 billion.

  • In an Equity Talk, Maven CEO Kate Ryder shared a vision for a more equitable women’s health system.
  • Maven recently secured $110 million in funding, bringing the company’s valuation to $1 billion.
  • Ryder is focused on expanding health services for women of color and women who receive Medicaid.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In 2012, Kate Ryder closed the book on a journalism career and joined the world of venture capital. The then-30-year-old started thinking about the problems she could solve through startups. Talking with her friends brought up a big one.

Like many women, Ryder’s friends shouldered the brunt of child-rearing responsibilities before, during, and after their 9-to-5s. Navigating the healthcare system, they said, was a nightmare. So in 2014, Ryder founded Maven, a virtual health clinic for women and families that’s now valued at over $1 billion. Her mission was and is to make the healthcare system easier for women and families to navigate.

Things changed in 2020 after she saw COVID-19’s outsize influence on Black and brown women and the civil-rights reckoning of the summer. These events changed Ryder’s perspective on her calling. What was a company for families more broadly would need to more closely center the experiences of marginalized ones.

“George Floyd’s murder opened up my eyes to things that I didn’t know,” she said. “I want to help create a more equitable world through healthcare.”

To be sure, the company has always strived to be inclusive. Maven provides parents (including queer and single parents) with fertility, pregnancy, adoption, parenting, and pediatric services. It’s also funded by a powerful group of women investors.

But now, Ryder is honing her focus on creating better healthcare solutions for mothers and parents from marginalized communities. The company is building products and services for parents who utilize Medicaid.

The healthcare system is especially difficult for women of color to navigate: Medical research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found they often must advocate for themselves more than white women to receive adequate treatment, as Serena Williams’ near-death birthing experience made clear for many.

Maven pairs every user with a patient advocate who helps connect them with the right providers, schedule appointments, and find additional resources. It also lists providers who have experience with certain communities to better tailor the health journey to the patient.

“I want to change the health of the world, one woman and one family at a time, and really provide more access to care,” she told Insider. “My goal is to fill the gaps in care with a reimagined care model for women and families.”

In an Equity Talk, Insider’s new series featuring executives discussing their work to advance social justice, Ryder shared her vision for the company and how she was strengthening diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for customers and employees.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In August, you raised over $110 million, bringing the total amount of funding to over $200 million. What are you focused on building right now?

One of the big things we’re going to be focusing on is further personalization across all the journeys our members go through. There’s a first-time mom’s journey and a third-time mom’s journey. There’s the IVF journey versus the surrogacy journey. We’re also deeply concerned about health equity.

There’s the journey of the single mom who works an hourly job. How do we make sure our model and technology is compatible with the pain points and needs she has? We put the chief medical officer for the home, whoever that is, at the center of our platform. Internally, we’re going to continue to focus on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

How are you advancing DEI internally at Maven?

One thing we’re really proud of is we offer unlimited vacation, flexible working options, and 14 weeks of paid parental leave. I think it’s really important when you’re looking at DEI to actually be very principled in your approach. What are the principles? What are the problems you’re trying to solve for? And then build that into your KPIs and policies.

We treat DEI like any other business goal, just like revenue or sales. So that ensures we’re creating positive change. We wanted to ensure that a mom, a parent, has enough bonding time with their child in those first crucial months.

I also want to create an environment where there’s room to be your whole self, and that includes if you’re a parent. That has to be modeled from the top. My son will show up in Zoom calls. I’ll talk about my kids in meetings. We have lactation rooms in our office. I want to create that space for employees to be their whole selves.

You mentioned you treat DEI goals like you do marketing goals or hiring goals. Can you show me how you do that?

We publish our workforce statistics on our website. So it’s very transparent to everybody what the racial and gender makeup of our employees is. I think you can’t make things better unless you’re actually honest about your data. So you can see that on our website.

Last June, after George Floyd was murdered, and there was a lot of conversation around how to solve the problems of racism at your own companies, we built these DEI groups. One group is focused on improving the company’s hiring process. One is focused on the product representation, meaning do we have diverse representation in our product? We’re improving our company that way.

But DEI goes beyond race and gender. One group we realized we did not represent well enough was people with disabilities. And so we put more of that in our product visuals and goals. We’re trying to go beyond just checking a box. It’s a business priority in and of itself.

As a leader, how were you changed by George Floyd’s murder and the summer of 2020?

A few years ago, during the height of the #MeToo movement, there was a point where some of my male friends said, “Wow, I didn’t realize when you walk home at night, you might worry about all these things.” I think with George Floyd, I was having those kinds of realizations. So I think it was a good wake-up call for everybody to really look at our representation across society and at our own companies and think, “How can we do better?” Because it’s not acceptable where we are today.

What’s your next big diversity or inclusion project you’re focused on over the next year?

We’re launching products for our first Medicaid customers next year. I think in this healthcare environment, where COVID-19 has laid bare around the racial disparities in care, but to really walk the walk around health equity, you have to serve the population that accounts for almost half the births that are on Medicaid plans. So from a product standpoint, we’re genuinely going after diversity and inclusion.

So you’re really pushing health equity and making it central to your business model.

Yeah. We’re doing it not only because it’s really critical to our mission, but it’s like half of the population. So from a market standpoint, too, you’re just missing a lot if you don’t do that.

I think we’ve learned a ton because we’ve always had diverse providers in our community, and we’ve always done cultural care matching. So we have a lot of learnings that we’re leveraging as we continue to build out this product.

I really think creating an equitable health system starts with bringing diverse experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives together.

In your opinion, what role does a CEO play in society?

It’s changing a lot. I think that in the past, it was, of course, a CEO’s job was to maximize shareholder value. I think that given that, you know, there hasn’t been as much leadership at the government level, I think people are looking for more meaning and guidance by the leaders that they see in their day-to-day lives, including in the workplace.

I think CEOs of companies are stepping up to fill some of these voids. So, for instance, with George Floyd’s murder, I don’t think 20 years ago you would have seen companies donate to charities or make investments as a reaction. But we made that choice to do so because we felt it was really important. Everyone at Maven wants a better world right now, so how do we do our part?

We have to compete in the marketplace and be an operationally excellent business not only because that’s how you win and how you scale, but it allows us to do a lot of these DEI initiatives and apply that same operational rigor to them so we can actually move the needle on some of these issues.

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6-figure diversity-executive jobs are in high demand. This is what to ask yourself before applying, according to 4 diversity leaders in finance, biotech, and more.

2 diverse coworkers
Job listings for diversity and inclusion executives have spiked since summer 2020.

  • Jobs in the diversity and inclusion industry have exploded since the racial reckoning of 2020.
  • The sector can be lucrative, with executive salaries ranging from $181,464 to $259,647.
  • Senior executives advise aspiring professionals to ask themselves a few key questions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In the aftermath of 2020’s racial reckoning, people are holding CEOs accountable to the racial-justice promises they made. To help them carry out this important work, business leaders are hiring diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consultants at record rates.

There’s been a 71% increase worldwide in all DEI job listings over the past five years, with the role of “head of diversity” growing by more than 107%, according to LinkedIn data. In August 2020, US searches for jobs in DEI were up 35% year on year. Likewise in the UK, searches were up 19%, according to Glassdoor’s research on the diversity and inclusion industry.

And the job can be lucrative. Median pay for DEI executives normally ranges from $181,464 and $259,647, according to Salary.com. While there is a special risk of burnout in the field, DEI consultants told Insider it could also be especially rewarding.

If you’re considering pursuing a DEI executive position, here are key questions to ask yourself, according to professionals in the field.

Rondette Amoy Smith, head of diversity and inclusion for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at Nomura

Rondette Amoy Smith
Rondette Amoy Smith.

Smith, who grew up in a lower-middle class immigrant family in New York, was always keenly aware of the inequality around her.

“I realized no matter how smart I was, or how many great excellent scores I got, two things that weren’t quite available to me were opportunities because I didn’t have a lineage of people who were from wealth or from big corporations,” she told Insider. “My parents came from especially humble beginnings, so in addition to opportunity, I also didn’t have access.”

She wanted to work to dismantle that inequality. Smith is now head of diversity and inclusion for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at the investment bank Nomura. She previously held roles at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. She said that starting out, she would never have dreamed of wearing braids, “that I would have my natural curly hair out.”

A career in DEI is highly rewarding, she said, but it’s important to ask yourself a few questions before you decide to pursue a career in the field:

  • Am I truly passionate about the role?
  • Am I willing to have hard conversations? Am I a natural empath? Am I willing to build my network and relationships? 
  • Am I capable of being a genuine ally to people?

Quita Highsmith, chief diversity officer and vice president at Genentech

Quita Highsmith headshot
Quita Highsmith.

Highsmith oversees diversity and inclusion efforts for over 13,000 employees at the biotech company Genentech. She assumed the role in January 2020, but she’s been working on diversifying the biotech industry for over a decade. In 2017, she cofounded an initiative to make the company’s research more inclusive.

She said her thirst for making society more equitable started at an early age, when she experienced racism and harassment. She and her sister were among just a few Black students at their elementary school in Louisville, Kentucky. Every morning, a white teacher at the school would open the side door so that they could come in to avoid being harassed at the front door by students and parents.

“I learned early on the importance of not only being an ally but being a changemaker, someone who will actively stand up and speak up for change,” Highsmith said.  

Her role today is a combination of those things. She’s working to meet Genentech’s goals, which include doubling Black and Hispanic representation at the director and officer leadership level by 2025.

“This is a tough job because you have to be so many things to the full organization, which can often lead to burnout,” she said. “However, having full leadership support keeps me motivated on the challenges.”

People interested in the field of DEI should ask themselves these key questions, she said: 

  • What is my motivation for DEI work, and how can I bring my lived experiences and unique perspectives to the table in this role?
  • Am I willing to ask the tough questions and have uncomfortable conversations to advance equity and make space for those who are underrepresented?
  • How do I respond to failures and celebrate small victories? Am I OK with aiming for progress over perfection?

While Highsmith said a college degree isn’t necessary to land a DEI role, it definitely helps. Taking an additional certificate course in DEI topics will also make your application more competitive.

“I would recommend that you get comfortable with asking questions, executing bold and innovative ideas, bringing your authentic perspectives to work, and inspiring and encouraging others from whatever position you are currently in,” she said.

Lybra Clemons, head of DEI at Twilio

Lybra Clemons headshot
Lybra Clemons.

Clemons was working at a research nonprofit when a colleague introduced her to a book, “Our Separate Ways,” by Ella Bell and Stella Nkomo. The book features eight years of research that compared the careers of 120 Black and white female managers in the US. Through personal stories, it shows how different their roads were.

That book led Clemons to her calling.

“It changed my life. It was the first time I saw people talking about corporate DEI in a truly intersectional way — not just women’s issues in corporate America or Black issues in corporate America — but really looking at the business world with an intersectional lens,” she said. “So I left the nonprofit and went to work for American Express in a DEI role, and the rest is history.”

Since then, Clemons has worked in DEI for over 15 years, driving corporate diversity and inclusion work for companies like Morgan Stanley and PayPal before going to the cloud-communications platform Twilio in September 2020.

She knows achieving equity in corporate America is a long game. 

“One of the biggest challenges I’ve come to terms with is that no DEI lead will ever be fully ‘successful,'” she said. “DEI work is a moving target, so the best a DEI lead can do is to leave each place better than how they found it.”

While it can take years to see the fruits of your labor in this field, Clemons said, it’s incredibly rewarding to hear stories of how DEI initiatives have changed people’s lives. Before you pursue a DEI role, she recommends asking yourself these questions: 

  • What are my expectations for success? What kind of goals do I want my DEI implementations to achieve, and what do I need from my company and colleagues to reach them?
  • Is my approach to DEI holistic? Is the company I’m looking at going to let me approach my job from multiple lenses?
  • Can I find an organization that will level and resource me appropriately? Will I have a seat at the table where businesswide decisions are being made? 

Opeyemi Sofoluke, coauthor of “Twice as Hard” and diversity lead at Facebook

Opeyemi Sofoluke
Opeyemi Sofoluke.

Sofoluke began focusing on diversity and inclusion work at JP Morgan in 2016 after working in project management for several years.

She said she had initially worked in different parts of the business, doing diversity work outside her day-to-day duties.

“I was committed to working in business-resource groups because it’s something that I was passionate about,” she said.

You have to really care about the work, she added.

“If you don’t care, and if you’re not truly genuine about the work, it will eventually show,” she said. “And so this is a space that you give a lot of your time to. You give a lot of your energy, and often, you may work long hours or because you care so much — you’re dedicated to seeing this change through.”

This is what she recommends anyone interested in a similar role ask themselves:

  • What am I doing outside work to show I care? Am I trying to educate myself? Am I showing up for my community? 
  • How much do I care?
  • What is my vision of success? How do I want to influence my company? 
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How to strengthen your self-confidence and personal leadership skills at work

business leader talking to coworkers
Solidifying your personal values is critical to developing leadership skills

  • Business leaders should prioritize their personal development with as much focus as they support their employees.
  • To strengthen self-leadership, be confident in your own judgement and solidify your personal values.
  • Be a lifelong learner, and celebrate small successes to build team confidence.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Most business leaders focus first on providing guidance to their team, but neglect self-leadership as equally important. In my experience, many entrepreneurs rely too much on the perspective of a trusted advisor or try to emulate a competitor who is getting attention. Personal leadership is setting your own direction and making real decisions first.

For example, no one really believes that Elon Musk is following someone else’s lead as he charges ahead with Tesla, SpaceX, and other initiatives. Steve Jobs famously is quoted as saying, “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” Of course, this kind of leadership has a big risk, since you have no one to blame if you get it wrong.

The challenge is how to develop that self-leadership in every aspiring entrepreneur and business professional role. As a mentor to many entrepreneurs, I don’t believe that it is only a birthright, and there are several key strategies, including the following, that you can learn and practice which will lead to success:

1. Give your own judgment a high priority in decisions

I’m not suggesting that you not ask for or ignore other views and data, but simply use these to incrementally bolster your own judgment and confidence. Then make the decision your own, before you use it to lead the team. Over time, your self-worth and your leadership performance will increase.

Getting lots of input on important issues is always a good idea. It can help you be right when, without expert help, you might fail. But it can turn into a flaw if you’re depending on other people’s opinions because you have no confidence in your own judgment.

2. Solidify and demonstrate your personal values

Strong values lead to a perception of a strong character, which is the essence of a strong leader. A real business leader must have a set of guiding values and morals, which set your reputation in the mind of others and improve your self-leadership perception. You can’t be a leader without values.

Every person and every company needs a set of core values. Each opportunity and leadership decision should be looked at through the lens of these core values or you will create unnecessary self-conflict and failure with your own self-leadership.

3. Increase your own knowledge in areas of interest

Focus on becoming an expert in relevant areas rather than relying solely on other people. This may mean attending industry conferences, taking college courses, or reading some key books. The more you know, the more self-confident you will be to make your own leadership decisions.

In many cases, the challenge may just be your ability to market yourself, and what you know. It may be time for you to start your own blog, write a book, or volunteer as a speaker at public events in your domain. Make sure everyone knows your expertise.

4. Demonstrate integrity and strong ethics in all activities

How you communicate informally and spend your time is as important as the decisions you make as a leader. People expect their leaders to act with personal integrity in their private life if they are to be followed in public decisions. Be open and transparent with the people around you.

Personal and business ethics are more than just obeying laws. You can be perceived as dishonest, unprincipled, untrustworthy, unfair, or uncaring without breaking the law. Ethical leaders often do more than they have to do and less than they are allowed to do.

5. Display personal leadership often to build momentum

The more you use your newfound leadership ability, the greater your satisfaction and confidence will be. People around you will recognize that energy and follow you more willingly. The result will be a self-fulfilling prophecy of quicker and better leadership, for you and for your team.

6. Celebrate every small success to build team confidence

Many entrepreneurs I know wait for that big event to celebrate their leadership. It’s actually more important to capitalize on all the small successes along the way, to build your momentum and everyone’s confidence in your leadership. You need this to weather the hard times.

In my experience, no title or amount of money will work as a substitute for self-leadership, or get you perceived as a business leader. In this very competitive age, with the current high rate of change in the marketplace, it behooves you to maximize your self-leadership, and be perceived as the business leader you always wanted to be. It’s never too late to learn and improve.

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Citi’s head of diversity says the company is on track for 40% female leadership by the end of the year

Erika Irish Brown
Citi’s head of DEI Erika Irish Brown was hired in June.

  • In June, Citi hired Erika Irish Brown to lead diversity and inclusion at the firm.
  • Her initial goal is to increase Black and female representation in leadership.
  • Brown is working closely with Citi CEO Jane Fraser, the first woman to lead a major US bank.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Erika Irish Brown, Citi’s recently hired head of diversity and inclusion, has one key goal for the $142 billion firm over the next three months: to increase Black and female leadership.

“I’ve always tried to connect the dots between racial equity, commercial, and human capital initiatives that drive the business case for diversity,” she told Insider. Diversity goals, in other words, aren’t separate from talent or business objectives. They’re intimately connected.

Working closely with Citi CEO Jane Fraser, the first woman to head a major US bank, Brown hopes to help the firm increase the representation of women in leadership positions to 40% by the end of 2021, up from 37% in 2018. The firm also hopes to increase the representation of Black people in leadership roles to 8% in the same time frame, up from 6% in 2018.

Citi declined to share its current figures, but said it was on track to meet its goals.

The financial sector is notoriously homogenous. At the entry level of US financial services firms, the percentage of people of color is in line with their representation in society – around 40%. But as you go up the corporate ladder, research shows, it falls steadily. By the C-suite, it drops by 75%.

There’s ample evidence to support Brown’s business case for diversity.

A McKinsey analysis in 2020 found that companies that had more gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have high profitability than companies with low gender diversity. Separate McKinsey research shows that companies with more racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have higher financial returns than their respective national industry medians.

To change the status quo, leaders need to use every opportunity available to diversify their workforces, Brown said.

“We have very specific development and retention programs for mid-level Black employees as well as women,” Brown said. These include active efforts to audit and close pay-equity gaps; and employee resources groups, such as Citi Women, a group for women and female-identifying employees. “We’re going to continue to develop those.”

The firm also continues to invest in a program called “Owning My Success,” in which senior leaders mentor mid-level Black colleagues. The program began with roughly 50 participants in 2018 and has expanded to nearly 300 members in the 2020 class.

Citi is also expanding partnerships it has with historically Black universities and colleges as well as Hispanic-serving institutions. While overseeing these initiatives, Brown has been meeting and listening to her colleagues, from interns to analysts to C-suite leaders, in order to learn more about the employee experience.

“It’s time consuming. My role is about understanding culture,” she said. “It’s about advancing diverse groups and you need those individual insights.” In the three months in her position, she’s already met with CEO Jane Fraser at least a dozen times.

Having support from Fraser is key, but it’s not the end-all-be-all. For Brown, diversity and inclusion isn’t a one-department job; it’s a company-wide priority.

“You need to have full buy-in throughout the firm,” she said. “I think the more that you have an open dialogue and get that buy-in and have everybody feeling like, you know, diversity, equity and inclusion is part of my role, it’s part of business, that’s how we drive accountability.”

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The Equity Talk: Insider launches new series focused on how CEOs are advancing racial and social justice

"The Equity Talk" in talk bubbles with smaller faint talk bubbles behind it on a gridded green background
  • George Floyd’s murder was a watershed moment in America, forcing CEOs to commit to racial justice.
  • In The Equity Talk, Insider’s Marguerite Ward will press execs on diversity and inclusion.
  • The series launches on Wednesday and will feature leaders from Citi, TD, AT&T, Maven, and more.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It was the summer of 2020, and George Floyd had just been murdered by the police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis. The blaring sounds of helicopters, protest chants, and police sirens filled the streets of several American cities. Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in solidarity to mourn yet another Black life that ended at the hands of law enforcement.

This moment triggered a corporate response. CEOs and business leaders were forced to acknowledge the value of Black life. And in an instant, silence became synonymous with complacency. In the weeks that followed, financial firms and major companies made promises to advance racial justice and diversity. Now they’re being held accountable.

To that end, Insider is proud to announce the launch of The Equity Talk, a biweekly conversation featuring prominent CEOs and executives across a variety of industries on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The Equity Talk will help drive the conversation on social justice in corporate America forward. In each installment, Insider’s leadership correspondent Marguerite Ward will discuss with business leaders how exactly they’re advancing equity in their business and beyond. Interviewees include executives from Citi, AT&T, TD Bank, Maven, and more.

Corporate promises are honorable, but delivering on those promises can be complicated. The Equity Talk seeks to demystify the work that goes into advancing social justice in corporate America. The world is watching, and this interview series is the scorekeeper to analyze how they’re doing and how others can follow in their footsteps – or not.

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Goldman Sachs announces the latest part of its $10 billion racial justice investment ⁠- this time supporting Black women in STEM

Asahi Pompey
Asahi Pompey shared a public letter to her 11-year-old son in a Goldman Sachs town hall that spurred the massive investment.

  • Goldman Sachs is rolling out a new initiative that’s part of its $10 billion investment in Black women.
  • The firm’s CEO David Solomon has tasked Black female execs with leading the investment.
  • The investment came after a virtual town hall in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

On Wednesday, Goldman Sachs announced it is rolling out the latest part of its $10 billion investment in Black women in the US.

The financial behemoth is partnering with Black-led financial services firm Loop Capital. Together, they’re providing clients of both firms with funds to invest in programs that support Black women pursuing STEM careers. Google is supporting the initiative with a $500 million investment.

“This launch creates a partnership for corporations to use the cash on their balance sheets to further opportunities for Black women and have a real, lasting impact on communities far and wide,” Kourtney Gibson, president of Loop Capital Markets, said in a press release.

Goldman’s $10 billion investment in Black women was born out of a raw, emotional conversation CEO David Solomon facilitated at the firm in June of 2020. A few days after the murder of George Floyd, Solomon called a company-wide virtual town hall meeting. He invited three Black executives at the firm to share their perspectives on the Black American experience.

Asahi Pompey, global head of corporate engagement and president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, was one of those executives. During the town hall, she shared a public letter to her 11-year-old son where she expressed her worries for his life.

At the end of the town hall, Solomon said “I want us to do something as a firm.”

Shortly after, Solomon asked the firm’s research branch where Goldman Sachs could have the most impact to uplift Black Americans. The result: Solomon and a team of executives decided to invest $10 billion to impact at least one million Black women. The investment is aptly called “1 Million Black Women.”

The report that informed this decision had a clear takeaway. Investing in Black women would have a substantial impact on the economy. The research team estimated that confronting the earnings gap for Black women could raise the country’s GDP by 1.4% to 2.1% each year, or up to $450 billion.

“The town hall fundamentally changed the firm,” Gizelle George-Joseph, chief operating officer of global investment research at Goldman Sachs, told Insider. She and Pompey are spearheading the investment. George-Joseph, who oversaw the research behind the investment, is consulting with executives like Pompey to make sure the money is invested in places that will have the most impact. Specific plans for how the money will be deployed have not yet been announced, a Goldman representative said.

“We found that if we can equalize Black women’s positions because they are one of the most marginalized groups in this country, then it’s not just an investment in Black women, but it’s an economy that’s working for everybody,” George-Joseph said.

Putting Black women in charge

Gizelle George-Joseph
Gizelle George-Joseph said she’s proud to be co-leading the firm’s investment in 1 million Black women.

Several large companies and banks – including Apple and Citi – have committed billions to address racial inequity in the wake of Floyd’s death. Normally, those investments are overseen by the company’s top executives, who are typically white men. But this initiative is not normal.

At Goldman, Solomon has assembled a team of Black women to oversee the firm’s $10 billion investment. Incoming Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer, actress and director Issa Rae, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are all on the board of directors for the project. Pompey said Solomon’s decision gives the firm a strategic advantage.

“Those closest to the problem are also closest to the solution,” she said. “Very often other people assume and don’t ask Black women ‘What would make a difference in your communities?'”

Filling a need

The $10 billion investment addresses disparities Black women face in the job market, housing, healthcare and startup funding.

“We found some really startling numbers,” George-Joseph said.

Black women are a crucial part of America’s startup ecosystem, yet they are deeply underfunded. The number of businesses owned by Black women grew 50% from 2014 to 2019, according to American Express research. Despite this, Black female founders accounted for just 0.3% of venture capital funding, per Goldman Sachs.

Jeannine Cook, the owner of Harriett’s Bookshop in Philadelphia, heralded Goldman’s investment “powerful” and “necessary.”

Cook opened Harriett’s just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic triggered worldwide closures and restrictions. Now, her shop has over 50,000 Instagram followers and she’s been featured on “Good Morning America” and has been visited by several noteworthies, including Isabel Wilkerson, author of the acclaimed “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.”

“Black women have always led this country, it’s just that someone else’s name has been attached to our creativity and our content and our decisions. But we’ve always been doing this work,” she said. “I think it’s way past time that something like this happened.”

Black women earn 15% less than white women, and 35% less than white men, per Goldman’s report.

Those closest to the problem are also closest to the solution

To help close the wage gap, the firm recommends businesses hire more Black women in high-paid positions, achieve pay equity, and invest more in Black female founders, like Cook, who can create jobs.

According to the company’s 2019 sustainability report, 29% of its global managing director class were women, 4% were Black. The firm said it wants to increase representation in hiring for entry-level analysts and associates in the Americas to 50% for women, 11% for Black employees. Goldman did not include a timeline.

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article originally published on March 16, 2021.

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