In a panel discussion yesterday afternoon at the National Retail Federation Big Show in New York City, Hubert Joly and Marvin Ellison, the CEOs of Best Buy and J.C. Penney, respectively, addressed the importance diversity and inclusion in the workplace can have not only on their own businesses, but all corporations.
Joly and Ellison were part of a panel that also included Sarah Alter, president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women, a nonprofit learning, leadership and advocacy organization; and Benno Dorer, CEO and chairman of The Clorox Company. The discussion was moderated by Shannon Schuyler, principal and PwC Americas’ Chief Purpose Officer.
The conversation was particularly relevant given the divisive climate in the country today as well as the rash of recent well-publicized sexual harassment and misconduct cases involving male leaders.
More Than Just Making Money
“The purpose of Best Buy isn’t to make money,” Joly said. “That’s an imperative, but the purpose is to work towards the common good. The good news is that in our control. We’ve built a diverse team, but we still have a lot of progress to make.”
At J.C. Penney, Ellison has worked diligently to embed diversity metrics into the company’s goals and strategy. And leaders, most importantly he, need to be measured and held accountable on the performance towards those goals. Without measurement, it’s just a nice conversation, noted Ellison.
“The challenge in retail is the corporate environment is completely different than the store environment,” Ellison said. “Ninety-six percent of my employees work in J.C. Penney stores [and other non-corporate positions], and they’re most important because they’re interacting with customers.”
Ellison pointed out that 72 percent of J.C. Penney’s customers are female, and he believes it’s imperative to construct a leadership team that reflects the customer base. Therefore, six of Ellison’s direct reports are women.
“It’s a journey we need to go through,” acknowledged Joly. “I’ve had the good fortune to report to women in prior positions. We need to feel the struggles of others. Humble yourself. It starts with corporate values. Individuals working together are what matters. Everything else is superficial. You can’t do that if people don’t feel accepted. The fact that we have good gender equality at the management level doesn’t hide the fact that we have a lot of work to do.”
A Retail Trailblazer
Ellison is one of just four African-American CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. When asked by Schuyler what that means to him and how it makes him feel, he said it evokes polar opposite emotions.
“I’m enormously proud to be blessed enough to lead a Fortune 500 company,” Ellison said. “However, I’m not arrogant enough to believe I’m the third best African-American CEO in America. This screams opportunity. I feel it’s important for myself to educate, inform and reach back. There are a lot of people that haven’t been afforded the position or platform that I’ve been given.”
So how can women and minorities climb the corporate ladder and become more commonplace in retailers’ (and other industries’) C-suites and corporate boards?
“My father used to always tell us, ‘nobody can beat you being you,’” Ellison told the audience. “Embrace who you are, embrace your gifts, embrace your diversity. I wanted to talk about the things that mattered to me — our customers, our stores. And by doing that, I started to stand out for the right reasons. Embrace your diversity. I challenge everyone to embrace what’s unique about them and what they can add to the company.”