By Robert Reiss
As American companies focus on their growing success, perhaps one of the most powerful and widely accepted ways is for them to continue to expand on their achievements through building more diversity and inclusion efforts, especially at the executive and board levels. It’s not just the right thing to do, but research has proven to be effective in helping to enhance revenue, recruiting, innovation and reputation. However, findings from a recent study by the Alliance for Board Diversity show that in 2016 less than 15% of Fortune 500 board seats were held by minorities.
One of the fastest growing segments in the workplace is the Latino U.S. workforce, which has grown significantly from 10.7 million in 1990 to 26.8 million in 2016 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, only 3.5% of Fortune 500 board seats were held by Latinos in 2016. In fact, 2010 data from the Alliance for Board Diversity suggests that these figures represent a meager .5% increase in the representation for Hispanic board members between 2010 and 2016.
As there are currently only 11 Fortune 500 Latino CEOs, I thought it would be of value to gain insights from key Latino executives on building exceptional businesses and on fostering growth of Latino executives. The CEOs interviewed are:
– Pedro J. Pizarro, President and CEO, Edison International
– Geisha Williams, CEO, PG&E
– Cid Wilson, President and CEO, Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility’s (HACR)
Robert Reiss: What is your philosophy for building an exceptional business in today’s world?
Geisha Williams: One of the biggest keys is creating a workplace where every employee feels comfortable speaking up and where leaders listen and follow up. Organizations that can achieve this transparent, engaging environment are better able to challenge old ways of doing business. They’re able to quickly call out risk areas and find solutions. And they’re better positioned to identify and pursue opportunities to grow and succeed.
Pedro J. Pizarro: My philosophy for building an exceptional business is simple: Hire, retain and promote exceptional people, and create an environment where every team member feels like an owner. Our team must have a sense of purpose, be free to innovate, and feel energized by our mission. Equally important is fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace. Diversity of backgrounds creates diversity of thought, and I encourage my team at every level to bring that to bear on the issues we face, even when that means disagreeing with me. That give-and-take process yields the insights needed to successfully navigate constant change, and flattens the hierarchies that can hold companies back.
Cid Wilson: My philosophy on building an exceptional institution starts with a compelling purpose-driven mission. Working with our board of directors and a dedicated staff of leaders, we are relentlessly pursuing our mission of advancing Hispanic inclusion in Corporate America. Secondly, you have to master the art of anticipated change. What worked in the past may not work tomorrow. When change is on the horizon, exceptional institutions adapt while others fall behind. Thirdly, having a strong reputation and credibility of being best-in-class in executing your mission will differentiate your institution and stand out from the rest. Lastly, exceptional institutions plan to achieve and dare to exceed so that they see great results and outcomes. I believe in the time-honored principle that when you “under-promise and over-deliver,” your business or institution will create exceptional value and solidify your external credibility.
Reiss: What do you believe Corporate America can do to foster the executive development of future Latino CEOs who have the potential not only to lead their companies, but also to serve on corporate boards, given that 60% of Fortune 500 board seats are held by current or former CEOs?
Wilson: I believe that Corporate America should make Latino executive development a high priority. We know that a larger pool of Latino executives yields a greater pool of CEO-ready and board-ready candidates for Fortune 500 companies. This means current CEO’s need to become champions of Hispanic inclusion, not just supporters. Sponsoring, mentoring, and developing internal Hispanic talent at the company, as well as fostering a corporate culture of executive-level inclusion will yield increases in the number of C-suite Latinos. Corporate America also needs to change the culture of picking primarily former CEO’s for their boards. Having a board of all non-diverse CEO’s risks giving the company CEO advice and counsel that doesn’t mirror the life experiences of an increasingly diverse population. Those boards that shift to ones that have better ethnic, racial, and gender diversity will have a higher likelihood of outperforming competitors whose boards are made up of primarily non-diverse board directors, even if those non-diverse boards consist of current or former CEO’s.
Pizarro: At Edison International and Southern California Edison, we’re committed to developing a diverse team and diverse leaders. We hire people both for their current skills and for the potential they possess. We have changed how we hire and promote, training our entire executive team on understanding and neutralizing unconscious biase also continue to support our thriving business resource groups created by diverse employee communities, including LEAD, our award-winning group dedicated to the development and upward mobility of Latino employees. In addition, we are committed to expanding executive development opportunities. For instance, we place our high potential employees on local non-profit boards, where they learn first-hand that we value giving back to the community. Not only does this give our future leaders, including our up-and-coming Hispanic leaders, growth opportunities, it provides beneficial support to our community partners.
Geisha Williams: Companies can take a number of meaningful steps to help Latinos and people of all backgrounds become successful leaders. For instance, we have to invest in leadership development at every step—with training, networking and career opportunities tailored for each level of leader, especially emerging leaders. The best companies welcome a diversity of perspectives and see the value in building a leadership team that’s representative of their employees and customers.
Even though Latinos may not see many people like themselves in corporate board rooms today, I encourage them to look at the educational and career paths that global business leaders have taken and try to build that same body of experience as they create their own path. I also challenge corporate leaders to commit to being mentors, both for other leaders in the organization and for the youth in the community. We need to help these rising stars see that they can make a difference and encourage them to go after tough jobs. For me to see my own potential, it took a mentor saying, “Geisha, someone has to run this company someday. Why not you?”
… In summary, after thinking about these CEO comments, I was reminded of the analogy of the redwood tree. While it can soar 350 feet, its roots are only about six feet deep. However, these roots reach out up to 100 feet and actually connect themselves with nearby trees, strengthening the roots of both. In the same way, as we expand and connect the roots of diversity and inclusion throughout corporate America, we will enable all corporations and the economy itself to grow increasingly higher.
To hear interviews with CEOs go to www.ceoforum.ceo