On November 9th Ariel Investments President Mellody Hobson brought attention to an issue she deals with on a daily basis in a potentially polarizing but ultimately powerful way. During her conversation at the DealBook Conference she addressed and urged business leaders to make it a priority to take a stand against the lack of diversity in corporate America. Mellody made a comparison, asking the question, “Where is the corporate Kaepernick?” In other words, who will stand up to (or take a knee in protest of) the problem that corporate America is still dominated by white males? This conversation was timely and imperative, and as I continued to read more, two aspects of her approach challenged me to think more deeply about how to create change amidst constant barriers.
It seemed noteworthy to me that Mellody Hobson addressed the overall system from an organizational level and not the individual level. This macro or top-down approach calls for leaders to “take a knee,” and bring attention to the lack of corporate diversity but doesn’t name any one person as responsible. Instead, she asks that everyone take responsibility, especially leaders. Her approach reminded me that the group is sometimes more important than the individual, and if we target systems and structures, we can address and change even the toughest problems – but we have to get leaders on board.
In addition to being directed at systemic change, Mellody Hobson’s words were powerful because she was the “Only” in this particular conversation. It took great courage to speak about this topic in such a position. As one of only a few African American women holding a leadership position in finance, as well as being in a space where there are only four African Americans holding a CEO position, addressing a group of business leaders most likely was not an easy task. On top of that, she asked her colleagues and peers to mirror the movement of a controversial figure, who I’m sure also knows what it feels like to be the “Only.” Change takes courage to speak up even when it’s uncomfortable, and with more courageous acts like this, we can continue to open the door to greater inclusion and create more opportunities for corporations to thrive and for people to thrive within them.
I truly believe people such as Mellody Hobson and many others are beginning to set new norms in the American corporate culture. As issues such as racial disparities continue to be at the forefront of our national consciousness, it will only continue to heighten awareness and sensitivity within more closed, protected spaces like corporate America. This will hopefully ignite more forms of actions and we will begin to see a new type of culture.
Please share with us your thoughts, and as always, Live Inclusively!