A Leading CEO Who is Honest, Caring and Practical About Race in the Workplace

I had the wonderful pleasure of being a panelist at the Blue Cross Blue Shield “Racial Diversity in Today’s Workplace” event last week. While many leaders talk about their commitment to diversity and inclusion, I felt a deep sense of personal commitment when their CEO, Andrew Dreyfus gave his opening remarks. I found myself swelling with emotions and hope as the leader of a top branded organization talked about this hard –to-talk-about topic with hope, honesty and sincerity.

A central core of my leadership development work is about making meaning of our life story, knowing how our lives inform what matters and allowing that knowing to inform our life and career path. I found this exemplified by Andrew Dreyfus. When Andrew began his talk about his father being the first in Boston to insure neighborhoods that were “redlined”, and how he went with his father into these neighborhoods, I heard a story about bravery, pioneering, doing what’s right even when it’s hard and social justice. It’s rare that we couple profit-making with social justice, yet it’s what his father did. It’s clear Andrew Dreyfus brings that spirit and thinking into his leadership today. We may believe “social entrepreneurship” was invented in the last decade, but it’s clear that it has always been here, just without a headline. Through the story about his father’s insurance business, I realized how pioneering and courageous Mr. Dreyfus senior was. And it seems, that this ethos is now imbued in his son, Andrew.

Mr. Dreyfus provided his top ten for why diversity and inclusion matters. It was a truly holistic perspective that spoke to the reality of why diversity and inclusion makes sense for non-profit and profit-making. I applaud his honesty and realism – especially about how this topic is emotional. We so often make people matters into process engineering, yet emotions is the centrality of us being human. For the US, I don’t think there’s an issue more emotional than race, especially between blacks and whites and the history of that relationship. For sure, it is emotions that make or break our communities, including our work communities.

So here are Andrew Dreyfus’ pearls of wisdom. I hope all leaders will take this to heart, if they are serious about creating a highly functioning and engaged team that leverages the practical benefits of diversity and inclusion:

  • Lead from the top. Senior leaders must all take a part. Only with this commitment will Diversity and Inclusion be taken seriously by everyone else in the organization. But just talking about it isn’t enough. It must have “constant care”.
  • It must be weaved into the organization with tools and accountability. HR must be an area of investment. Managers need training and coaching on this topic. For example, how does “diverse recruiting” really work? How do we recognize that we all have unconscious bias? It doesn’t just come naturally to most of us. Managers need to be given the “tools” to know how to make D&I work, everyday, in their teams. Managers need to have diversity and inclusion metrics in their performance plan. Define the expectation, make it measureable. A verbal commitment by the top simply won’t be enough.
  • A business case must be made for diversity and inclusion. How does it benefit the business? I know most organizations don’t make that connection. In fact a Deloitte study shows that most D&I efforts are not tied to the bottom line. Having had P&L responsibilities in my career, I know for sure that I care most about the drivers that affect the bottom line, and my performance review.
  • “Be constantly vigilant. If you pause, it will go backwards.” Change is hard. As a coach, I know that changing mindset and behaviors are incredibly challenging. If we want organizations (that is, people) to change, there has to be consistent reinforcement of the what, why, how. We have to be able to make mistakes, be confused, ask stupid questions and value positive intent backed up by practical actions.
  • In D&I work, there needs to be organization readiness and I loved his truth about this aspect of diversity and inclusion. It’s not a walk in the park. This is “a personal issue, emotional…but we can’t allow that to be the barrier…engage”. Based on my experience, few people come into coaching, which is about shifting self, with glee. There is doubt, confusion, fear of failure and inadequacy. As a coach, my job is to help individuals work through the discomfort of growing, with a process and structure that allows them to be ready to walk the path. D&I is just as true, for the individual, team and the organization.
  • Finally, a point that I resonated so much with and find so little happening in our society — “meaningful dialogue”. BCBS has facilitated “diversity dialogues” that convene different people to engage in this important topic and move pass the discomfort. As I’ve worked with international students on US campuses, I know that when we include the larger community, the topic becomes personal to us all. When that happens, we can have a whole new level of engagement, by a much larger population, resulting in even greater impact.

Andrew Dreyfus’ words so resonated with me, my personal identify and my professional work. As an immigrant American, as someone who succeeded in corporate as a person of color, as someone who has worked globally, and now as someone whose life’s work is about bridging differences toward a larger inclusive commonality, I know for sure that the embrace of differences, along various spectrums, is the only and the preferred way for productivity, employee engagement and positive outcomes. In the end, we are all people, with hopes, feelings, and dreams. When we all feel truly included in and a part of a greater whole, what we can create together will simply be, beyond the stars.