Mike Paul
Mike Paul

As we begin another year, my advice to corporate, nonprofit and association boards—where true power resides—regarding how to actually fight institutional racism is the following: If your board and senior executive teams worldwide don’t match the demographics in which you reside, operate or serve, you’re at greater risk than ever before.

Starting from the bottom never works. The strategy must always be top-down with the numbers, jobs, executive peers, board peers, consultants and supplier diversity matching the national and global demographics. Sprinkles are not enough. Your ethnic diversity data is now required to be reported publicly, and that will require both transparency and accountability. The excuses for not accomplishing this best-practices approach are old and don’t hold water any longer.

To make up for decades of numbers in single digits at each level of employment, as well as for the boards themselves, every board needs to vote in next meetings for all levels from intern to the board itself to be 50 percent workers and executives of color. That’s right, 50 percent.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jan. '22 Crisis Communications & PR Buyer's Guide Magazine
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Authentic data drives the world today and hiding, spinning, collapsing categories and solely releasing percentages is never authentic. Raw diversity data is required by all moving forward. If not, boards will face intense outside pressure to fulfill this important best-practices approach goal from many stakeholders, including shareholder meetings and activist groups.

In fact, it’s an excellent time of year to retire or fire those who continue to hinder global progress on this and other important goals for tipping-point change. The research is clear: Truly diverse organizations from intern through board levels make, on average, a third more money than others, according to McKinsey and Deloitte research. This should chase every excuse out the door, including those standing in the way. The only reason true leaders won’t actually accomplish this goal is due to the fact that prejudice or racism supersede the courage to bring this valuable tipping-point change.

In addition, my opinion regarding the chief diversity officer title in most corporate and agency organizations is cover. The position for decades has hindered progress because most CDOs are hired to fulfill the current board and c-suite’s true goal of doing very little aside from simply covering the butts of so-called leaders who are frightened of authentic tipping-point change.

If you don’t believe me, study the raw, ethnic, diversity data at every level of most organizations with CDOs. They don’t improve the numbers of executives of color, especially Black, Latino and Asian executives into every senior executive level of organizations. In fact, some don’t even have as part of their job description to be rewarded or measured by helping to increase the number of executives of color hired into their own organization.

Most CDOs are simply publicists for the agenda of seeking to look like the organization cares about diversity, equality and inclusion issues, but are never truly held accountable to the raw, ethnic diversity data of employment, at every level within the organization. Nor are most chief human resource officers, nor are most CEOs or board of directors.

However, that’s now changing. The federal government, through EEOC, as well as shareholders who buy public corporation stock, including civil rights and activist investors, are holding corporations much more accountable than ever before. As we know, most public relations and marketing agencies are owned by advertising conglomerates, which are publicly traded. The real pressure and the real change will occur when shareholders—even those who only own a few shares of stock—speak truth to power at a shareholder meeting on a quarterly basis.

That’s where the opportunity to speak truth to real power lives. Questions like: If X company sells products and services and has offices and locations in urban areas like New York City and cities worldwide, why does its workforce, especially at the executive levels, from Vice President and above, not mirror in representation, ideas, services and products developed, designed, sold and more by executives of color? Why is your board not at least 50 percent executives of color? Why is your c-suite not 50 percent executives of color? When will the CEO or COO be an executive of color? Should we have to wait 20 more years for these changes to take place? Is it really okay to continue to simply say we can’t find any? Or to say we interviewed more than a dozen last year but they didn’t fit our culture or didn’t have the right experience to work for the organization?

We must understand that the problem lies directly with those currently in power making these decisions. They are what hinders real progress. They are the problem, not the supply of qualified executives of color in the world consistently seeking the opportunity to lead versus fulfilling the current guess of criteria to do excellent work and provide excellent leadership.

Why? Because executives of color have never been given the opportunity to lead in the numbers needed to create the tipping-point level of executive peers of color in each meeting and each division by the dozens. Not one or two, but by the dozens. That continues to scare the hell out of most white leaders in the world. In fact, it has never happened in the history of the world. Not because excellent leaders of color don’t exist. But for one reason only: few ever get the opportunity to lead, manage teams of workers and show how they can greatly contribute.

Fear is a liar. Fear is real. Fear keeps the numbers of executives of color low. To have a goal of 50 percent at all levels to many white leaders seems impossible. Impossible is nothing for those with true vision and confidence in those different than themselves. It also takes major changes to the current set of criteria for success and an openness to newer, better and creative ways to win beyond rules in past.

The future is now. The future is more diverse regarding race than ever before. The world is not white. The world is a mosaic of many colors. It’s high time we embraced it. And, when it works in organizations of all kinds, it makes much more money than it does in non-diverse workforces. If needed, let the color green lead you to new leadership. We exist. Pressure makes diamonds.


Mike Paul is President of Reputation Doctor, LLC.