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Forum is latest crossover event at NJPAC

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John Schreiber, New Jersey Performing Arts Center's CEO and president.
John Schreiber, New Jersey Performing Arts Center's CEO and president. - ()

John Schreiber said he feels blessed that the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark is located in one of the most diverse regions in the country.

“Our programming and our audiences are genuine reflections of that,” Schreiber, NJPAC’s CEO and president, said.

Such as its most recent Business Roundtable, on the role of race in the workplace.

“It is an especially timely subject — (one that) keeps the volume turned up on diversity and inclusion in the climate that we are in right now,” Schreiber said.

A record number of more than 125 business leaders attended the corporate forum Jan. 26.

NJPAC Business Partners, a membership organization, is comprised of more than 100 multinational corporate and privately-held businesses in New Jersey and New York City that provide essential philanthropic support for the theater. NJPAC’s mission, rooted in the celebration of diversity, is to be the nation’s foremost urban presenter of arts and entertainment, a creative and effective leader in arts education, a convener of enlightening civic engagement events and a catalyst for economic development in Newark and its surrounding areas.

Schreiber addressed the room at the event, thanking those present for their continued support and participation.

“As business leaders, you set a standard for the cultures of your corporations,” he said. “Whatever we hear from Washington, some of which is true and some of which is not, the idea of continuing to have courageous conversations about race and diversity could not be more important than it is today.”

Elena Richards, moderator of the event and the minority initiatives and talent management leader for the office of diversity at PricewaterhouseCoopers, collaborated with Brendan P. Dougher, NJPAC board member and New York Metro managing partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, in the creation of the business roundtable’s topic.

“In this day and age, with social media and technology, I think race seems to be in the news at least once a day,” Richards said. “How do we, as organizations and communities, as we work together to serve our clients, bring this discussion into where we probably spend a significant amount of time?”

Panelists included Carlos Rodriguez, CEO and president of ADP in Roseland; Sharon C. Taylor, senior vice president of human resources and chair of the Prudential Foundation for Prudential Financial in Newark; and Tim Ryan, senior partner and U.S. chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Here is a selection of what they had to say:

On their motivations to bring the “often heavy” topic of race into the workplace:

Clockwise are Elena Richards, moderator of the event and the minority initiatives and talent management leader for the office of diversity at PricewaterhouseCoopers; Carlos Rodriguez, CEO and president of ADP in Roseland; Sharon C. Taylor, senior vice president of human resources and chair of the Prudential Foundation for Prudential Financial in Newark; and Tim Ryan, senior partner and U.S. chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Clockwise are Elena Richards, moderator of the event and the minority initiatives and talent management leader for the office of diversity at PricewaterhouseCoopers; Carlos Rodriguez, CEO and president of ADP in Roseland; Sharon C. Taylor, senior vice president of human resources and chair of the Prudential Foundation for Prudential Financial in Newark; and Tim Ryan, senior partner and U.S. chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“My family (immigrated) to the United States and were welcomed with open arms. Fortunately, at that time, there were no walls. … I grew up hearing, especially from other children of immigrants, that opportunity was the most important thing and that (it) could be taken advantage of by working hard and getting a good education. … As I got older, I realized that the second part to that was actually having the opportunity. I was very lucky to have gone to schools and to have worked for companies that focused on making sure that the best people were given the most important jobs, regardless of background. My experience was one of truly fulfilling what I consider to be the ‘American dream.’ There were a lot of people who opened doors for me, and as I traveled along my path, I realized later all of the obstacles that I was fortunate not to have run into. … So, I try, as a corporate citizen, to do the same for people who are coming up behind me.” — Rodriguez

“When I graduated and took my first job, I was the only person of color and the only woman. The first time something unusual happened to me (let’s just leave it at that), I came home ready to quit. My father — a military man who went to school at night and worked part-time jobs to get his degree — looked me in the eye and said: ‘How dare you. We have struggled for you to get an education; you now have a good job in a good program. It is your duty and responsibility to go back, to perform well and to enlighten others who are less enlightened than yourself in order to bring people along.’ … I also had a mentor who pushed me to be my best self who said: ‘Together, we need to help people understand what difference looks like. Many people in this organization have never lived with people of color. They are afraid to say anything to you. You have a duty and responsibility to help create the kind of environment that you believe will help empower others that follow.’ ” — Taylor

“I could talk about the fact that (diversity) makes sense, that it is good business, that the demographics of our country are changing rapidly and you don’t win the war for talent or serve your clients if you don’t look like them, and that is all true — but, for me, it goes much deeper. … I worked in a supermarket that had eight stores and was growing rapidly. I remember one day when I was a sophomore in college, I told the owner, we are all worried we are growing too fast and that we might dilute the brand, that the quality was going to go down, and that the competitive advantage would go away. He said, ‘My responsibility as an owner and a leader is to give everybody an opportunity regardless of who they are.’ He pointed to my brother, who works for the supermarket still today, and said, ‘If I don’t create opportunities, people like your brother won’t stay here, they won’t succeed and they won’t thrive.’ That lesson for me was more important than anything I ever learned in college or even at PwC. … The real leadership opportunity is taking one of our biggest societal challenges and opportunities and being known as someone who made a difference. Over the next 10 or 20 years, we are going to solve this problem. People who sit in a corner office have a massive responsibility and opportunity to be remembered for making a big difference not only within their four walls but also for making time outside of them.” — Ryan

On the expectations that people of color may especially feel to further corporate diversity initiatives:

“I try to share my experience with everyone to give people an example of how the ‘American dream’ is still alive. We know what the challenges are around inequality. It is not easy to break out from an area where one may be disadvantaged, but I am living proof of such an example. … I am incredibly grateful to this country, a country that values and stands for equality and fairness, even though, in our history, there are examples of when we didn’t necessarily live up to those expectations. It is a constant journey and we are constantly improving as a country and as a people.” — Rodriguez

“I think often times people feel like the experiences that motivate us are vastly different, but we can tell by each of the panelists’ responses, that the thread is opportunity. Whatever we look like, whatever we sound like or wherever we are from, I think that is the thread that binds us. But for so long in corporate America I think we have all believed that we have to be somewhat color blind. You cannot ignore the fact that I am a 5’9” black female when I walk into a room. That is something that is. In my experience, the first thing I think of when I walk into a room, no matter what, is ‘What are they thinking about me?’ That is not something that we should shy away from. That is the first thing I think of — not the topic or the presentation. It is something that I am hard-wired to do, and that is the reality. The more we can share about our experiences and what motivates us and the things that we experience, it will help make this conversation a little easier.” — Richards

On why businesses, especially those that are hesitant, should encourage these types of difficult and often-uncomfortable conversations:

“I think we all fall into the trap of familiarity, where you have a certain group of people that you have worked with for a long time and those who you are comfortable with. Hence, when a job opens, you naturally tend to (choose them). That is human nature — not necessarily unconscious bias — but it is not helpful to the objective of the corporation to have the best people in the most important jobs. Forcing ourselves to have diverse slates in terms of the entire picture of who is available for management and leadership opportunities has allowed us to make progress. … Our board is more diverse than it was five or 10 years ago, and I would say the same thing about our leadership team. … From my perspective, the company is stronger, more effective and has a richer set of ideas and discussions today.” — Rodriguez

“We have to be brave to have uncomfortable conversations because, frankly, the easy ones have been had. … I took over as the U.S. chairman and senior partner in July. The shootings in Dallas took place the first week of my tenure. … We sat down and said, OK, we knew people across (the) organization were (made) very uncomfortable. We had a candid, honest conversation, in which some said, ‘We have to do something,’ and others said, ‘We need to be careful of the risk,’ being that it was a hard topic that could make people mad and move us in the wrong direction. Like many companies, what we did was send out an email saying that we care, that we didn’t have all the answers and that we knew people were hurting. What happened after that was amazing. We received nearly 1,000 emails within 24 hours from our people. One email in particular said, ‘When I came to work Friday morning, the silence was deafening.’ … We met again on Monday morning and said, OK, how do we react? We decided that we would have our first-ever daylong discussion on race. You could imagine the concern within our organization at this very raw moment in our country’s history — where was this going to go? Could it go badly? Could our people tarnish this on social media? Could we have had physical violence? Would people start yelling at each other? But, we decided to do it. … July 21, for us, was a turning point in our firm’s history. We took an important step in truly understanding what it is like to walk in a room and be black; to be black and worrying about your son or daughter; things we couldn’t understand if we didn’t take that risk and have that dialogue.” — Ryan

Panelists grapple with diversity fears in Trump-run nation
Joel Sherman, senior vice president of business development for Atlantic Tomorrows Office in Bloomfield and founder and former CEO and president of A-Mar Digital Systems and Saymar Digital Business Systems, asked the million-dollar question of the morning, calling politics the “500-pound gorilla in the room”:
“I heard a couple of things that stuck in my head, such as (doubling down) on the values of a firm and also, calling out bad behavior,” Sherman said. “But how can we talk about diversity in the workplace when looking at a cabinet that has been selected by a president who said to the black community, ‘What do you have to lose?’ and a vice president who talks about conversion therapy?
“As leaders of companies, you can try and manage and lead your people, but you are now leading your people in a very divisive and fearful environment. How do you deal with this as leaders of corporate America?”
Carlos Rodriguez, CEO and president of ADP in Roseland, was the first to respond.
“It is not healthy to have a government that is not representative of who we are as a people, but I am also respectful in a very deep way of this country and its system that got us to where we are today,” he said. “I also believe that things happen for a reason. There may be some mysterious reason as to why things are happening the way they are happening.
“I think it is OK for us as leaders to speak out and voice our opinions if we see something that we think may not be taking us in the direction that we want to go. There are business issues that may or may not intersect with some of what I would call societal issues, so I intend to have my voice heard without, hopefully, it ending up on Twitter.”
Sharon C. Taylor, senior vice president of human resources and chair of The Prudential Foundation for Prudential Financial in Newark, spoke of her recent professional experience.
“The day after the election, you could have heard a pin drop,” she said. “We had a record number of people working from home, people walking on eggshells, people who were fearful that relatives would be deported, many in our business resource groups believing that affirmative action was going to be rolled back, and women believing that benefits suddenly were going to disappear.
“So, we decided as a team, led by our current chairman and CEO, John R. Strangfeld, that we had to reinforce the things that we stand for. We sent out a memo from John reinforcing the fact that we are not a Democrat- nor Republican-affiliated company, but we are an American company. And, we created more opportunities for people to come together to talk about what they were thinking and how they were feeling.
“It was the sort of time that we had to double down on the values of the firm. That is really what you have to stand on. John reinforced the fact that this is who we are and who we would continue to be regardless of which way the political winds blew. We needed to help our people understand that our purpose for being here and in other parts of the world is still to provide financial security, peace of mind and ladders of opportunities for all, and that is what had sustained our firm for more than 140 years.”
Tim Ryan, senior partner and U.S. chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, ended the discussion by talking about what business leaders can and cannot control.
“At about 10 a.m. the morning (after the election), I sent a video to all of our people that said, from a very high position of strength, we are doubling down, and it is going to be OK,” he said. “It is important to support our president in things such as tax reform, trade policies and infrastructure. I believe we can move our country forward with some much needed reform, but at the same time, we need to maintain our decency.
“In the CEO community, it is important sometimes for us to stay focused on what we can control and we, to a large degree, can control or heavily influence what happens within the four walls of our organization and where we spend our time outside of them in order to also maintain decency.”

On the variations of best practices on how to facilitate such discussions:

“I think one of the things that has allowed us to have such a dialogue is the creation of Business Resource Groups, such as African-American, LGBQTIA and U.S. Veterans. Some of our conversations are led by the organization, but the best discussions have really been led by the associates themselves. … These groups tend to attract people with similar interests, but they have become fairly broad-based, which allows for people to have open dialogue and talk about the issues that they experience both in and outside of work. That has been an incredible asset for us in taking our discussions to the next level.” — Rodriguez

“The conversation of race needs to be grounded in context, and that is one of how to improve leadership, talent and culture. It speaks to the leadership competencies that we expect; it speaks to our commitment to diversity and inclusion and the environment and culture that we create; and it speaks to our leadership above and beyond the walls of Prudential in the communities in which we live and work and serve. … Our leaders are reviewed and assessed in all of our seven core competencies. Their performance is calibrated on how they develop and grow people and the kind of culture and environment that they create. A portion of their compensation is dependent on how they perform in these very important areas. … Somehow, if you take (money) away from someone who is having a problem in this area, their behavior either changes or they self-select out.” — Taylor

“Frankly, in life, there is always going to be a roadblock. It might be the lack of progress on the black agenda or it might be a business that is overwhelmed by family problems, but if all we do is look down and kick the dirt and say life stinks, that is not leadership. It’s about being positive, acknowledging process and then saying, let’s find a way together. Find where you can take just one more step forward.” — Ryan

On the best ways to identify and deal with unconscious bias within an organization:

“You have a feeling of what is right or wrong on a personal level, as so much of our history and human nature makes us who we are. So, we are put in these uncomfortable situations when we see someone behaving in a way or saying something that does not comport with our (individual) values. … For me, in the last five to 10 years, it has become easier for me to have (harder) conversations off-stage. I happen to think that there is not a lot of value in public humiliation or embarrassment, especially if it is (due to) unintentional bias. I find that the only way to deal with that is to have a conversation with the person. When I didn’t do that, the issue never resolved itself and it always ended up getting worse. When I started doing that, 95 percent of the time, the discussion was around the person not understanding how it felt to walk in the other person’s shoes. … We have an obligation to politely explain to people how their behavior may impact other people. Politely the first time — the second time, not so much.” — Rodriguez

“You have to be willing to call out and illustrate the behavior in ways that make sense. For example, we had a person who declared themself a role model in the area of leadership talent and development. But if you looked at the demographics of the pipeline, the results belied that role model label. This individual was revered in the organization and, so, we had to have the guts not only to figure out how to give appropriate credit to their effort, but also lay plain the fact that it was not enough. … It is the intersection of courageous conversations, pointing out and holding people to the values of the firm, and ultimately, the progress, that will carry us further.”

“For example, many of you may have heard (from a superior), ‘I will not lower my standards. The job requires X, Y and Z, and a lot of women don’t want to do X, Y and Z.’ Now, we had two women that were willing to do X, Y and Z, but where there are two women, there are four women, there are eight women. Your role is to identify, find, help nurture and create a pathway to build opportunities for those women — and it’s not like we said, ‘By next Tuesday at 3:15, thou shalt have 50 women.’ That’s what some people think you need when you say, ‘Be inclusive; cast a wider net’; you will be better for it as an organization. The wave that you use to get there may be different but, ultimately, the rising tide of performance will lift all boats.” — Taylor

On the obstacles that still continue to exist when it comes to race:

“There are some who would say, ‘We have made a lot of progress. People are more enlightened. We’re done. I’m not a racist. People don’t ban people. That work is behind us.’ … I think we are beyond, for the most part, the black and white, right and wrong, of racism. People are not (typically) called disparaging names within earshot. There are no longer separate drinking fountains. I think that the topics around race now fall within that gray area of, ‘We are not going to talk about that.’ And it is difficult to help people engage in the things that are really going to make a difference, such as getting to know and understand people (through) those kinds of conversations that really move the dial around race. The whole notion of unconscious bias and how that manifests itself in the workplace — those are the kinds of courageous conversations that leaders need to be willing to have. … People hear what you say, but they watch what you do and they will hold you accountable. You can tell when the environment moves forward because it is not legislated — it just is. To get that kind of sustained behavior, all leaders have to be willing to put it on the line when it is most impactful. I think people who are willing to do that are able to create and sustain meaningful change.” — Taylor

“Five years ago, white men handled all 20 of our Top 20 clients. We stepped back and said, good news is the clients are happy, but if we are serious about making diversity and inclusion a reality, we need to change things. … I am proud to tell you today that women or minority partners handle seven of our Top 20 clients. We have made good progress. But what we realized is that we were still leaving a whole group of people behind. Intellectually, that group got it — they said it was imperative for business and that it was the right thing to do. But then they asked, ‘What about me? I’ve been working for 20 years to be that person.’ This is the intersection of growth if we are really going to solve the problem. As leaders, we have to create opportunities for everybody. And that’s the biggest challenge that we have. We’re meeting more frequently with that group of people to make sure that they understand that we are committed to growth and opportunities for everybody.” — Ryan

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

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