Mahatma Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.” I believe the key to the whole world vision starts with open communication, leading to understanding and then action. With this in mind on October 2, 2020 Women Business Collaborative (WBC) held a Digital Summit with almost 1,000 people registered to collaborate and energize the movement of gender equity. Through criteria-based analysis WBC selected four leading companies for the WBC Award in Gender and Diversity Excellence. In a panel I co-moderated with WBC Board Member and leadership expert Becky Shambaugh, below are their insights on actions and advice to CEOs. They are:
Bruce D. Broussard, President and CEO, Humana
Ann Cairns, Executive Vice Chair, Mastercard
David A. Ricks. Chairman and CEO, Eli Lilly and Company
Arne M. Sorenson, President and CEO, Marriott International, Inc.
Robert Reiss: Talk about what your organization is doing to create gender equity.
David Ricks: “Lilly takes a holistic approach to gender equity. We worked to understand women in our company with in-depth research called the Women’s Journey—and later, Minority Employee Journeys. Based on those results, we worked to improve our leadership, systems and culture. We set aspirational goals for women and minorities in management, enhanced talent management programs to guard against implicit bias, and addressed psychological safety by focusing on cultural literacy. Together, these efforts have created a more equitable environment for all women.”
Arne Sorenson: “Alice Marriott set the tone from day one. She co-founded the company with her husband J.W. Marriott in 1927 and served as our first bookkeeper, first interior designer and first woman board member. From the beginning, the company embraced a culture of empowering people – men and women – through opportunity. Today, that commitment includes our Women’s Leadership Development Initiative, which aims to increase the presence of women in management or decision-making positions through mentoring, networking and new opportunities. We’re working to achieve gender representation parity in global company leadership by 2025.”
Ann Cairns: “We take a holistic approach to gender equality and have developed a global framework across the company. Our framework is based on three pillars: what we do for our people, our markets and society. Our commitment to gender equity is an essential part of our culture. We believe it creates a place where the best people choose to be – and where all employees feel valued, respected and have the opportunity to reach their greatest potential. In our company women earn $1.00 for every $1.00 earned by men at the same level. We have a minimum of 16 weeks parental leave for women and men. As part of our society pillar we’ve pledged to bring a billion people and 50 million micro and small businesses into the digital economy by 2025 – with a direct focus on providing 25 million women entrepreneurs with solutions that can help them grow their businesses. This year, our framework has been extended to address other dimensions of diversity, including race. For example, we’ve committed to grow our U.S. Black leadership at the VP-level and above by 50% by 2025.”
Bruce Broussard: “Diversity is really good business. What I mean by that is when you have a challenge in an organization, having diversity of thought is critical because you get representation from all points of view. That to me has made us a better company. The idea of Diversity as both the moral right thing to do, and as leaders we need to do it. Secondarily, it’s just good business sense … it has a lot of practicality in the business world.”
Reiss: What advice do you have to other CEOs?
Broussard: “We have a responsibility as leaders to take these issues on because it’s the right thing to do, and also because we’re in a position to influence. Take accountability for it by measuring it, and sponsoring it.”
Cairns: “Real change happens when CEOs set and measure aspirational targets to treat everyone equally, leading the charge in reshaping culture and the way our world is designed. CEOs who have women in their C-Suite and on their Boards have already started to change the hearts and minds of their companies and employees.”
Sorenson: “Be authentic. People notice. Over the years, I’ve found the presence of women executives on my team and across the company has attracted more women job candidates. Women can see a concrete path to opportunities here and that’s critically important. I also encourage companies to be fair. I think, too often in business, hiring managers who are men select candidates who look like them. They might think, “Yeah, that’s where I came from. So, he must meet my criteria.” If they see someone who comes from a different path and a different identity, they might say, “Wait, that woman candidate has to check every box before I’ll hire her.” But I didn’t check every box when I was hired. I had been a partner in a law firm and early in my Marriott career, Bill Marriott selected me as chief financial officer. He gave me a chance. I learned from that experience. If you have a woman candidate with the potential to do a great job, give her a chance to do it. Too many hardworking Americans – especially women – find opportunity and economic security are out of reach. Your company can provide that ladder to success.”
Ricks: “Leadership matters. We have a tremendous responsibility to build the change needed for gender equality and we have to be transparent and accountable. I encourage CEOs to support the work to understand the experience of all women at your company. At Lilly, we learned that women of color and LGBTQ women have additional challenges. If you aren’t making the progress you want to see, start with understanding so you can put solutions in place to get good results.”
In summary, as I think about these four great leaders from Eli Lilly, Humana, Marriott and Mastercard, I see the common bond is servant leadership. This brings me back to Mahatma Gandhi who threw down the challenge that all of us, regardless of our position, can aspire to ” The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”