As part of a new Knowledge@Wharton series titled “Leading Diversity at Work,” Wharton management professor Stephanie Creary, who is an identity and diversity scholar, discusses some of the race-related issues that persist across industries large and small.
In 2002, Rohini Anand was settling into her new position as senior vice president of corporate responsibility and global chief diversity officer for Sodexo when the food services company was hit with one of the largest racial bias lawsuits in American corporate history. In 2005, the company agreed to an $80 million settlement and worked hard to revise its internal practices and build a culture of diversity and inclusion.
“That certainly was a very painful time in the company’s history. But it was also a time of incredible learning, incredible growth,” Anand says. “And I think much of this had to do with the leadership.”
Although the struggle for equality in the workplace is nothing new, the fight has been invigorated by worldwide protests sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who died after a white police officer pressed his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The subsequent call to end systemic racism is reverberating throughout boardrooms and breakrooms alike.
Creary has created three categories for companies based on their diversity and inclusion efforts: the veterans; the aspirants; and the sideliners. She defined sideliners as companies that tiptoe around the conversation while not making any real changes or setting any substantive policies. Aspirants have been talking about diversity for some time and are aware of the issues, perhaps out of necessity. Creary points to the gender bias that became evident in Silicon Valley as an example. But aspirants have only begun to move the needle.
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