With signs of a possible recession increasingly looming, it’s unclear how companies will adapt to the economic storm that may be headed their way. But for some CEOs, prioritizing diversity in their talent pool remains center stage for their success.
“No company would hire an executive who didn’t have a basic level of financial acumen—and yet, we hire executives who do not have a basic level of diversity acumen,” Ron Williams, chairman and CEO of RW2 Enterprises, said at a panel event in New York City on Tuesday. “It’s not viewed as part of the executive skill set as a requirement to be an executive. That has to change.”
The panel, moderated by Fast Company Editor-in-Chief Brendan Vaughan in partnership with McKinsey & Company, included three CEOs and a senior McKinsey partner, who shared how they’re navigating the current economic landscape. All four emphasized their companies’ commitments to diversifying the talent pool, including a JetBlue initiative to train employees who may not have college degrees to be pilots, according to CEO Robin Hayes.
Hayes described the program as a “game-changing tool” that has heightened retention rates and begun to change the higher-up roles from being overwhelmingly white and male, something McKinsey detailed in its newest report releasing today called “The State of Organizations.” “I’d say we’re still in a phase of what I’d call ‘reluctant inclusivity’ . . . as opposed to ‘proactive inclusivity,’” said Patrick Simon, a senior partner at McKinsey.
The new report details some of the practices that companies are utilizing to implement the latter phase, including putting minorities in positions of power to enact that change.
Joanne Crevoiserat, CEO of fashion holding company Tapestry—which owns Coach New York, Kate Spade New York, and Stuart Weitzman—said it’s important for companies to prioritize diversity not because it’s the right thing to do but also because it promotes the long-term health of the company itself. “The way I think about ESG, inclusive of our diversity, equity, and inclusion work, and our climate work, is that they’re business imperatives,” she said. “I don’t think that there’s a difference between our strategies on that front and our business strategies.”
Williams added that it can often be hard to argue with people who don’t believe facts; instead, it’s important to keep focused on what the company is doing.
The panelists also discussed the ever-evolving uses of AI in the workplace, with Simon adding that McKinsey has seen a recent uptick in questions from CEOs surrounding the technology.
Williams, who is the former chairman and CEO of Aetna, offered an optimistic look into the future of AI, saying its development is allowing scientists to predict illnesses and create new medicines, and that it ultimately possess the possibility to treat otherwise incurable ailments.
The panelists also briefly commented on the emergence of remote work, which they noted is only relevant for certain professions with the ability to work remotely. At the end of the day, the most important priority is ensuring that companies create a culture that encompasses the shift to hybrid workplaces.
Although all four panelists shared uncertainty on whether there is or isn’t stability amid the current storm clouds, it’s clear that CEOs are making strides toward strengthening their talent pools, and their companies as a whole.
“I don’t need to set diversity targets,” Hayes said. “I just have to make the profession more accessible.”