Updated: May 27
We Can’t Find Any: Why Biden’s Inclusive Recruiting Puts That Excuse to Rest
– By Bill Hawthorne
Walk into a C-suite meeting at any corporation across the country, and you’re likely to notice a pattern: conversations about racial injustice are more common, but the executives seated at the table are mostly white.
While white leaders should continue to have these discussions, they might consider addressing the elephant-shaped question in the room:
Why don’t the executive teams and boards of directors making decisions for large corporations reflect the U.S. American population?
A USA Today study found that only 2 percent of top executives at the 50 largest companies in America are Black even though Black people make up 12 percent of the population. Roughly 18 percent of the U.S. is Latinx, but they fill less than 5 percent of executive roles.
A common answer offered by the decisionmakers leading elite businesses is, “we can’t find any.” That answer persists even as the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) population in the United States is projected to outnumber white-only Americans by 2045.
The diversity problem plaguing the top of most American corporations is not due to a lack of available and qualified diverse candidates, but to the inadequate methods and limited places corporations are using to correct it.
The President Has Options, So Why Doesn’t Corporate America?
"I'm going to keep my commitment that the administration, both in the White House and outside in the Cabinet, is going to look like the country,” President Joe Biden said in a joint interview with his Vice President, Kamala Harris, in the weeks leading to his inauguration.
Now President of the United States, Biden has the greatest excuse to rescind such a promise. He is tasked with selecting the most highly qualified leaders in the country as his trusted advisors on domestic and international policy at a time in history marked by violent social turbulence and a resurging pandemic. If anyone has the right to say, “we can’t find any,” it’s Mr. Biden.
Instead, Biden seems to have the opposite problem. Rather than facing criticism for appointing mostly white men, his dilemma has been picking the right minority for the job. As it turns out, there is no shortage.
Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate was monumental, shattering multiple glass ceilings at once. She is the first Black person, Indian-American and woman to become the Vice President in American history.
If Biden’s pick for Secretary of the Interior, New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, is approved, she will be the first Native American Cabinet secretary. Moreover, she will lead the department overseeing public and tribal lands.
Pete Buttigieg stands to become Secretary of Transportation, an appointment that would make him the first openly gay member of a Presidential Cabinet.
Biden tapped two Black leaders to take on US environmental policy: Michael Regan is poised to become the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and if confirmed, Brenda Mallory will lead the Council on Environmental Quality.
The following Cabinet roles are only a fraction of the positions that Biden has already offered to BIPOC leaders:
Secretary of Defense
Secretary of Health and Human Services
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Secretary of Education
Director of Domestic Policy Council
Ambassador to the United Nations
Significantly, these roles are not exclusively related to social responsibility, diversity, inclusion and social justice. The selection of diverse candidates to fill a variety of Cabinet positions sends this message: Black people can lead on issues other than race, women can lead on issues other than gender, Latinx people can lead on issues other than immigration, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Whether Biden will please everyone is up for debate, but the practical intention applied to his verbal commitment is indisputable. The result is the formation of the most diverse Presidential Cabinet in American history.
Diversity is Good Publicity. It’s Good Business, Too.
Politically speaking, the optics created by such a diverse Cabinet will go a long way with the increasingly diverse American population. Corporations in the top five of the Fortune 500 are also aware that remaining silent on diversity or racial injustice is no longer acceptable to consumers.
For example, in response to the sustained outcry against the killings of unarmed Black men and women this past summer, Verizon committed $10 million to social justice organizations including the National Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Action Network. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian revealed the company’s robust action plan for creating a more diverse, inclusive and equitable company. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Quillin gave $120 million to Morehouse College, Spelman College and the United Negro College Fund, the largest individual donation ever contributed in support of scholarships at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The public’s response to the impact of structural racism on communities of color should sound the alarm for businesses interested in outlasting their competition. If they want to earn their consumers’ trust and loyalty, businesses must invest in the social issues their consumers care about. That’s part of the reason why diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives within executive teams are good for business, and the data proves it.
Analysis from a 2020 McKinsey report shows that companies with the most gender and racial diversity in their executive teams outperform their less diverse competitors by 36 percent. The report also found that some companies continue to stall or flounder in their approaches to D&I. The result is a profitability gap that favors companies helmed by the most diverse teams while companies led by mostly white men underperform by 40 percent in profitability.
Biden’s Cabinet is evidence that there is an abundance of qualified BIPOC candidates, and that executive teams can, if intentionally formed, reflect American diversity. The 15 percent of Latinx leaders on Biden’s cabinet nearly match the 18 percent of the U.S. population identifying as Latinx. Black people make up 12 percent of the country, a number surpassed by the 19 percent of Biden’s Black appointees. Eight percent of Biden’s picks are Asian, closely reflecting the percentage of Asians making up 6 percent of the population. For the most part, Biden’s cabinet exceeds diversity expectations. If HR departments are to follow his example, they will need to re-evaluate their own recruitment and placement efforts.
Some of Biden’s highest-ranking appointments have come from an academic cohort that corporate talent recruiters often overlook: the students and graduates of HBCUs. Vice President-elect Harris attended Howard University, and Rep. Cedric Richmond, Biden’s pick for the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, is a graduate of Morehouse College. Roughly 300,000 mostly Black students are enrolled in HBCUs located throughout the country. Businesses looking to diversify their talent pool might consider focusing recruitment efforts at these learning institutions.
If Joe Biden’s appointments are confirmed, the United States Federal Government will become the most diversely led corporation in the nation. Roughly 50 percent of Biden’s Cabinet appointments are BIPOC leaders, a sharp contrast from the two and five percent of Black and Latinx executives leading corporate America.
Corporations and businesses truly committed to inclusive recruiting and placement of experienced and junior executives will follow President’s Biden’s proven strategy by following 5 steps:
Publish clear CEO commitment to diverse hiring
Position the Company as an employer of choice for diverse top talent
Ensure recruiters reflect diversity
Insist upon a diverse slate of candidates
Link executive pay to diversity targets
Corporations and businesses that prioritize D&I will achieve optimal success in the workplace and marketplace. In doing so, these exemplary corporate citizens will play a critical role in dismantling institutional bias in their companies and in the broader society.
*Bill Hawthorne is Chief Strategy Officer for Inclusent, a leading D&I strategic management consultancy, former Cabinet level Chief Equity Officer for the City of Atlanta and Chief Diversity Officer for a Fortune 500 Company.