By Leah Smiley
The Associated Press reported that the Board of Directors at American Apparel voted to oust its Founder and CEO, Dov Charney, regarding an investigation into misconduct. What is interesting is that we discuss Dov Charney in the Institute for Diversity Certification’s credentialing program, specifically pertaining to the legal risk that American Apparel faces involving alleged inappropriate sexual conduct in the Executive offices.
While this brilliant Chief Executive is renowned for his unconventional approach and scalable business concept, a search is officially underway for new leadership at American Apparel. In a recent Forbes article, New York Times Best Selling Author Kevin Kruse defines leadership as “a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” This definition of leadership also applies to Diversity and Inclusion professionals, who are continually seeking to influence the social and cultural climate of the organizations with which we interact.
Nonetheless, in “The Corporate Diversity Charade,” John Fitzgerald Gates, Ph.D., a national diversity expert asserts that “the dirty little secret of corporate America and the practice of diversity is that 25 years after establishing ‘diversity’ offices, most companies have not developed a mature understanding of how diversity can contribute to their bottom lines.” Or, diminish earnings and market share. This is evident when executives, like Dov Charney, have diversity within the ranks, but continue to get hit with harassment, discrimination and retaliation claims. According to Wikipedia, since the mid-2000’s, Dov Charney has been the subject of at least 5 sexual harassment lawsuits that are pending, or have been settled or dismissed.
Dov Charney, however, is not the only misbehaving CEO. Bloomberg Business Week reported that last night John Legere, T-Mobile’s ‘way cool’ CEO, made an ‘unfunny’ comment when he told potential customers that his competitors were, “raping you for every penny you have…” Indeed, we are witnessing a transition from a stale and stodgy C-Suite to corporate environments where shock and awe are the order of the day. Yet, here’s where a skilled Diversity and Inclusion executive is invaluable—because he/she can make the business case in a way that senior leadership trusts and respects.
Here’s what he/she could say in a one-on-one meeting, “Mr. CEO, our employees, customers and investors love our culture because it is so radical, creative and fun. We need to keep that culture– but let’s make sure that we don’t forget about the financial and organizational risks associated with crossing the line. For example, when you said, or did ___________. It could cause some people to think that we don’t value ___________, and you and I know that is not true.”
June 19th marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and along with civil rights leaders, the business community was a vital component to the passage of this transformational legislation. We have made progress on many fronts, but there is still much work to do.
The word diversity implies that there are many ways in which equity and inclusion professionals could perform this work—but we must master the 3 C’s of leadership: courage, coalitions and competence.
In the workplace, leaders must look to the future and embrace the change that keeps organizations ahead of their competitors. Robert J. Tamasy of CBMC Canada writes, “most high achievers, those that have left indelible marks in their areas of endeavor, have been ones that exhibited uncommon courage – willing to swim against the current, to challenge the status quo, to venture into the unknown with no guarantees of success.” Mr. Tamasy asserts that there are 4 ways to demonstrate courage: in taking a stand, proceeding despite danger, persevering, and acting on convictions.
I talk to a lot of courageous D&I practitioners, and a common complaint is that this type of work is very hard, and you receive little support. But it’s time to change this phenomenon and adapt the true meaning of inclusion, or working with others. This is the only way that Diversity and Inclusion professionals can go beyond the 4 walls in the Office of Diversity toward building programs and structures that are sustainable and successful.
The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines a coalition as “an alliance or union between groups, factions, or parties, for some specific action; the act of making or becoming a single unit.” Could this definition imply that the Office of Diversity, working alone, is outside of the scope and parameters of the organizational fabric? And by forming “coalitions” (especially with critics), the Office of Diversity will be able to perform specific actions better? I’m being facetious, but you get the point.
Finally, our courage and coalitions must be balanced with competence. This may be indicated by putting strategic ideas in writing, linking diversity and inclusion to business objectives, and using data to substantiate one’s interventions and goals. For example, beyond reporting how many people attended a diversity training session, it may be better to measure the outcomes of such learning.
According to the Business Briefing “Learning and Analytics” by Success Factors (an SAP Company), “the inability of companies to establish robust statistics that clearly demonstrate direct links between learning and business improvement” is a major reason why some feel that learning interventions are ineffective. “Without analytics,” it suggests, “you are at risk of driving your learning strategy blind, and never realizing the results you expected to gain. By combining traditional training reporting with business data from other systems…it is possible to quantify the commercial benefits of any learning activity in real time.”
The Society for Diversity understands that unlike the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s, there are thousands of diversity and inclusion leaders. Accordingly, the Society offers a variety support systems such as the 2014 Diversity Leadership Retreat, diversity certification, resources and technical assistance, to members and non-members alike. Our goal is to empower many leaders to become the most knowledgeable, skilled, and practiced diversity experts in the world. And through our goal, we can help others see the value in diversity and experience measurable business impact.
American Apparel isn’t the only company seeking new leadership; the Society for Diversity also wants leaders with the 3 C’s to support us on this journey.
Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 and largest professional association for Diversity and Inclusion. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto http://www.societyfordiversity.org.