the overall welfare to champion the cause.
Over the years, I have occasionally been surprised and delighted when other board members, including white men and women, have stepped forward and said, “Earl, let me run with this one for you.” I think that is terrific. It says to me that they understand that it makes sense socially and economically to provide opportunities and share the wealth with all people.
On the flip side, through the years I have encountered far too many white women in business who have benefited from affirmative action but feel no duty to help other minorities gain access. Rather than be accused of generalizing, let me note that, without exception, the white women I have served with on corporate boards have always proved to be most concerned about discriminatory hiring and employment practices. I’ve seen many of these intelligent and dynamic women stand in harm’s
Stand together. At all times, and particularly in periods of downsizing, do your best to ensure that African Americans are not cut out in disproportionate numbers. Most of the major corporations, including AT&T, Xerox, IBM and the auto companies, were very careful in this regard in the early 1990s, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t others who tagged the last hired to be the first fired. Step forward and make the point that it is extremely difficult to find good people and also to maintain diversity.
Don’t be afraid to take a stand. Those I recognize as having stood up for fairness and inclusion have generally done very well in their careers. Selfishness doesn’t last. Uncle Toms don’t last. Fearful people don’t last. It’s rare for the individual who only cares about himself or herself to get very far in the modern business world where relationships are so important. Those who stand up for their beliefs and values are more respected and universally seen as leaders.
I receive a fresh offer to serve on a corporate board at least once a year, and I doubt that you will find anyone who would describe me as a shrinking violet in matters of race (you certainly won’t after this book). I’m outspoken on discrimination, but I’m also a champion of shareholder value and business success. Driving shareholder value is the first responsibility of any director.
But let’s be frank. African Americans are not invited to join the boards of white-owned companies because the world has run out of smart white people. We are expected to add unique business perspective and a fresh dimension, just as women are. That is a strength to be leveraged, not a deficit to be hidden away.