June 16, 2020

Stop Thinking, Start Doing: How Diversity & Accountability Impact Profit

Stop Thinking, Start Doing: How Diversity & Accountability Impact Profit

If you’re a business decision maker...diversity matters.

If you’re a business decision maker...diversity matters.

If you’re an entry level employee...diversity matters.

If you haven’t even entered the workforce yet...diversity matters.

Because companies that prioritize diversity do better. According to McKinsey, in 2019, companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity financially outperformed those in the bottom quartile for diversity by 36%.

But how do we put that 36% in context? And how do we, as individuals, make sure we’re holding corporations accountable for diversity and inclusion efforts?

This week on Business Casual, I speak with Edith Cooper to figure it out. Edith, who our producer Marilyn aptly called a “corporate badass,” is the former head of Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs, a board director at both Etsy and Slack, and cofounder of personal and professional development startup Medley.

  • Also? Edith was named to Black Enterprise’s 2017 “300 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America” list, among many other awards and honors.

Edith’s candor and insight will push you to think differently and ask more questions about diversity in the workplace, like...

  • If you want to stay relevant as a corporation today, you need to open doors for everyone—not just for prospective employees who look like you. Young consumers notice when businesses aren’t woke, and they’re voting in a new guard with their ballooning purchasing power.
  • If you had the opportunity to become excellent right now, immediately—why would you turn it down? When corporations don’t hire from diverse backgrounds and promote Black workers, they’re doing just that...leaving excellence on the table, as Edith puts it.
  • What other aspect of a business’s success would be okay to sidestep for this long? Not even the most promising of startups could put off something like a path to profitability forever. So how come we’ve allowed corporate leaders to put off diversity—something we know contributes to long-term financial success—for centuries?

 

Edith begins to offer answers, but the truth of the matter is that this has to be an ongoing conversation. How are you going to make sure that this time, it’s different?

Listen now to get started.


Transcript

Kinsey Grant, Morning Brew business editor and podcast host [00:00:07] Hey, everybody, and welcome to Business Casual, the podcast from Morning Brew, answering your biggest questions in business. I'm your host and Brew business editor, Kinsey Grant. And now, let's get into it. [sound of a ding]


Kinsey [00:00:18] Today, we're talking about diversity, inclusion, equitable opportunity, and how they combine to create stronger, more resilient, more profitable businesses. I want to start this conversation with an honest admission. I didn't know where to start. I've spent the last eight or nine months asking the biggest questions in business. But the last few weeks have shown me that I was barely scratching the surface. Before we can talk about paths to profitability or go to market strategies or mergers and acquisitions, shouldn't we first talk about the people who make all about possible? 


Kinsey [00:00:52] Where they come from, what their stories are, and more importantly, how the differences in those stories make for better teams? How can we consider everyone in the equation of creating better, fairer workplaces? I think that's probably why crafting today's episode gave me pause. I mean, how do you pick a question one, when you're trying to make a conversation about making work work for everyone, especially when it hasn't for so long. So today, let's start a conversation that I hope you'll continue with your friends and your family and your coworkers, because as my guest today put it, the only thing that's wrong is to say nothing. I'm excited to welcome to Business Casual Edith Cooper. Edith, welcome to the show. 


Edith Cooper [00:01:35] Thank you so much for having me, Kinsey. 


Kinsey [00:01:37] I'm really excited to speak with you today. I want to run through a little bit of your background so everybody understands why I'm so excited. You're the former head of Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs, an independent board director at both Etsy and Slack, and the co-founder of the personal and professional development startup Medley. 


Kinsey [00:01:55] You were also named to Black Enterprise's 2017 300 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America list, among many other awards and accolades. As my producer Marilyn put it when we were talking about this interview before we started recording, you are the definition of a corporate badass. So thank you so much for taking the time [laughs] to come on Business Casual. 


Edith [00:02:13] I'll have to put that on my card. I have to say —


Kinsey [00:02:15] There you go, exactly. 


Edith [00:02:17] Business badass. I like the sound of it. 


Kinsey [00:02:19] It sounds pretty good, and it's true. I mean, that's, I think, part of why so many people have turned to you and your wisdom and your advice during this time. I saw you on a LinkedIn Live originally that I thought was just fantastic, talking about some of the issues that we're talking about today. And I think it's important, you know, as the nation and frankly, the world, are sort of coming to terms with the fact that racism is indeed systemic, your voice has really been instrumental already in the past, you know, 10 or so days in helping people understand what diversity and inclusion mean in the world, in the workplace. 


Kinsey [00:02:53] So before we even ask any questions, I just want to express my gratitude and say thank you for your leadership. I know that in times like this, it's the black community and black Americans face an undue burden to educate everybody else. And I know that that burden is large and it disproportionately affects black Americans more than everybody else. But thank you for taking the time to educate me, educate our audience. I'm excited to have this conversation. 


Edith [00:03:20] Well, thank you again for having me. And yes, in fact, this is an extraordinary time. And we, as black people, are certainly at the center of conversations as people do start to engage in conversations at a different level. I would say, however, that I don't see that as a burden. And I think that that is true for many of the black community, because we have all benefited as black people from the extraordinary hard work of our ancestors. 


Edith [00:03:54] And when I say ancestors, we don't have to go back to those that fought against slavery. We just simply have to go back to one generation to see how much work they did. I was fortunate to be a mentor of Vernon Jordan, and he often has said our job was to break down the brick walls, and they were clear and they were large, but we saw the walls that were created by institutionalized racism and segregation. 


Edith [00:04:26] Your job—get through that rubble. And in some ways it's more challenging. So we're up for the task. We're resilient people. And I really do appreciate the opportunity to spend some time talking about these things that are so important to me and so important to society. 


Kinsey [00:04:46] And I think this concept of cleaning up the rubble is something I really want to dig into here. That my generation—I'm 25 years old—my generation has a different job than my parents' generation did. And just because it's different doesn't mean, necessarily, that we should go about it—and maybe we should—but the core tenets are still there—that racism is still an institutional problem, a systemic problem. And I'm glad that we're having more conversations about it now. But it's not like this is a new issue. Maybe it's getting new attention in light of George Floyd's death and in light of protests happening around the country. 


Kinsey [00:05:20] But this is something that has long been a concern for business that we, frankly, should've spent more time talking about. And I'm focusing on the business aspects of this because this is a business podcast. But I think this is a human issue. It's not just a business issue. It's not a political issue. It's a human issue. So, with that, [laughs] I will just pull out some stats because I think it's important to paint this picture. These are from 2019 from McKinsey, which does these great diversity reports. 


Kinsey [00:05:46] They found in 2019, companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity financially outperformed those in the bottom quartile for diversity by 36%, which is actually more than in recent years. It's gone up, which I think is a really important factor to consider as we go into this conversation, that this is a business impact. It has an impact on your business. [laughs] So with that, I think we should get started. And we will talk about the protests happening around the country against systemic racism and police brutality and all of the statements that these businesses have made, and black squares on Instagram, and all of that and the brand statements. 


Kinsey [00:06:24] But first, I want to talk about some building blocks. I think we should walk before we run. So when we think about equity of opportunity in the workplace, what does that mean to you? And should we be using the word equity or the word equality? 


Edith [00:06:38] So equality is a very important term. And in effect, that's what we as black people and society in general should strive for—that you have equal access to opportunities as a black person or as a woman or quite frankly, for everyone. The reality is that there are unconscious biases and unfortunately, some conscious biases that people hold with respect to how they consider opportunities for people of color—black people specifically in this conversation—that make it more challenging to access those opportunities. 


Edith [00:07:19] I will tell you, in my personal and professional experience, we come to the table as black people with an internal drive to be excellent. We have been raised and conditioned to know that it is our job to take care of business. And that means that we have to be prepared, be focused, and be extraordinary because when we walk in the room, people have preconceived notions that, quite frankly, may not fit that narrative. 


Edith [00:07:47] And so one of the most important things for an organization to really get under the hood of having an environment that is really open to everyone is to understand the aspects of their culture that make it more challenging for a black person, a person of color, to advance than someone from the majority. 


Kinsey [00:08:07] I'm curious if you think that, you know, at any job I've applied for, I've seen "we are an equal opportunity employer." Does that actually do anything? What else is there that should be done? 


Edith [00:08:18] You know, I do think that the framework of requirements to be a equal opportunity employer, which are based on the law, are very important. And let's just remind ourselves that those were put into place at a time where they were required to ensure that those brick walls of segregation not only fell, but were monitored. And that has been really important. 


Edith [00:08:48] I think great organizations have to move beyond the legal requirement and really think about the things in their culture that lead to an individual's success, and connect the dots between the proclamations of wanting to increase the recruiting of black professionals, to understanding the black experience, to the experience that leads to an individual's success across a multiple number of dimensions to really create an extraordinary, excellent culture. And for me, Kinsey, this is what we're really talking about here. 


Edith [00:09:27] We're talking about understanding that great firms are really all about and reflect a firm's ability to hire excellence. And if you are not hiring excellence across a number of dimensions, if you are leaving black people behind, I, for one, and so many others, believe that you are leaving excellence on the other side of the door. And if you want to stay relevant, if you want to stay competitive, you've got to figure out how to open those doors because it's to your benefit as an organization, in addition to the fact that it's important from a societal perspective. 


Kinsey [00:10:08] And I know you're working on a new venture to help candidates become the best possible versions of themselves. So can you tell me a little bit more about Medley? 


Edith [00:10:17] Sure. So Medley is a company that I've been working on developing with my daughter. With Medley, we're creating a dedicated membership where curious and growth-minded people can learn from each other. It's a network for the present and the future. Things that we're focused on are empathy, valuing diverse perspectives. 


Edith [00:10:41] So when people join Medley, we get to know you and we match you with a group that meets monthly with a coach to really explore things across personal and professional dimensions. When we started this two years ago, we thought it was critically important. It reflected things that I've always cared about and benefited from, you know, being able to be part of groups that gathered. My daughter, Jordan Taylor, always part of teams, always knew that she was better when she was part of, sort of a group versus on her own. 


Edith [00:11:13] Fast forward to now. We didn't know that we would pivot to virtual. Unfortunately, we are living in horribly difficult times. But there's nothing that's more important right now than to gather people for conversations and dialog to personally grow. So that's what Medley's about. 


Kinsey [00:11:36] Yeah. I think it sounds incredible. You know, one of the challenges that I've spoken about with my own coworkers is the difficulty of expanding our professional networks and even at times, our personal networks, beyond just the people that we interact with on a daily basis. When we go into the office, or I guess now go into these Zoom calls, and it sounds like Medley is doing a lot to address that problem, to make sure that we can expand our networks beyond just the people we see all the time. 


Kinsey [00:12:01] So at the risk of sounding totally robotic, I want to know if there's a way to put a number value on this? Can we connect the dots from opening doors for more people, giving more people opportunity, to actually impacting the bottom line of a business? 


Edith [00:12:16] Well, when we started our conversation, you quoted some research from McKinsey that suggested that their research shows that diverse organizations perform better. I think the number was 36% better, thankfully, and appropriately, there is a lot of research that's been done to show that companies that have diversity actually do perform better. I'd like to also appeal to what my grandmother often used to say was just basic common sense. 


Edith [00:12:50] And the common sense here is that if you are driving an organization for the future and you don't have full inclusion of an entire community of talent, i.e., black people, you will not be as relevant and important. I'm encouraged by people's eagerness to engage in conversations on race with their black professionals. 


Edith [00:13:19] I'm excited and also holding all of us accountable to move from these conversations to actual actions. When you're sitting and you're talking to a black colleague, I would encourage both those in the senior positions, whether you're black or white, but also the black professionals who are using their heart, their soul, to contribute, to also get to know them professionally and to make sure that that's not the first and only conversation, because that kind of engagement is really important for visibility and growth. 


Kinsey [00:13:56] So how do we start those conversations? What's the best way to start them? 


Edith [00:14:00] Well, we're in an environment right now where external factors that are occurring, unfortunately, with frequency have brought it to the forefront. We are starting conversations now in response to the tragedies of police killings and racist behavior. I would add, however, that this isn't the first time in my lifetime. 


Edith [00:14:28] We don't even have to go back to the lengthy lifetime—but recently, where we've started these conversations, I sat down to write a piece to share my thoughts about racism, post-George Floyd's murder. And as I started to write, I thought, this is kind of familiar. And I went back to something that I wrote four years ago. Four years ago, I wrote something about how it was important for organizations to have conversations about race. So we've been here before. 


Edith [00:15:07] What's different now is that I do feel that the energy around this is that much stronger. I think we've all had enough. And the generations that are coming to the forefront now are going to hold us accountable in an important way that we can create real actions as a result of this groundswell of appropriate support for the fact that black lives matter. 


Kinsey [00:15:34] Right. I love the word groundswell. I think it does a really good job of illustrating the experience of simply being alive right now. I mean, I think even in my limited experience of understanding this world around me, I'm still young in the grand scheme of things, and this year, it feels different. And it feels different in a way that I think centers a lot on accountability. And it's a theme we've touched on in this podcast before, that the generation that is now achieving the purchasing power that their parents had had for so long are demanding more. 


Kinsey [00:16:08] They want more information about everything from the companies they support, whether that's sustainability, responsibility in the conversation around racial injustice. They just want more information. And they have more access to that, and I think for all of the wrongs that social media has handed us, I think this might be one right. When a company does something right, we can shine a light on it a little bit more. And we're going to do that. We're going to talk about how all of these statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement have actually looked in action instead of just in theory shortly. But really quick, let's take a short break to hear from our sponsor. —


Kinsey [00:16:46] Now back to the conversation on workplace diversity and why it matters with Edith Cooper. So, Edith, we touched on the specific ways that some of these companies are ensuring that they are in the position to be leaders in this conversation, to go out and make the statements that need to be made from their positions of leadership. I'm curious, a little bit before we get into the impact of those statements and those positions, I'm curious how we get to that point. 


Kinsey [00:17:14] We have a little bit of an understanding now in this conversation of why diversity matters, why inclusion matters. I want to know more about how it happens. Who's responsible for making sure that this is a priority in the workplace? Is it someone who was in the position you were in, as human capital? Is it a CEO, or is it just the people who are sitting in the cubicles doing the work? Who should be responsible for all of these conversations? 


Edith [00:17:37] Who's responsible for conversations on creating excellence in an organization and making sure that the firm is committed to developing, hiring, retaining, developing talent. I think that's the number one job of the CEO. His job, or her job, is to ensure that the right people are in the right seats. And it is also their job to enforce and reflect the cultural norms of the organization. 


Edith [00:18:16] So the CEO is certainly responsible. HR organizations are often the center of gravity, or should I say, should be the center of gravity, for ensuring that there is knowledge across all of the different components of what creates a strong talent organization. Great HR organizations are charged with responsibility for one, being partners with CEOs and other leaders of the organization to ensure that at every step there is a meritocratic process that includes best practices. 


Edith [00:18:54] How are you recruiting people? How are you thinking about positioning people for advancement? How are you pushing the conversation not just with the CEO, but broadly through the organization? And so that's the next set of people that are responsible. The broad-based organizations, specifically managers, are really, really important here. At Goldman Sachs, we've realized, as a result of doing real research, that managers do play a role in whether someone is an OK performer or someone that excels. Makes sense, right? 


Edith [00:19:28] The person that is closest to you, that gives you real feedback to help you develop professionally, that puts you in opportunities with that important client or that new business opportunity that's poised for growth, is very, very important. And so we have to prepare our managers for that. And managers, therefore, are very, very responsible. 


Edith [00:19:50] So although it's an important start for CEOs to be making these statements, and it is not only appropriate, it is so, so called for and in some cases, overdue. But that is just the beginning. They've got to focus, and we as people and organizations have to focus, with the same kind of rigor that we focus on ensuring that we reach other performance goals. 


Kinsey [00:20:17] Edith, I had wanted to ask you if you thought that it was possible for these kinds of initiatives that CEOs take, that people who are in the C-Suite take, to create a more diverse workforce to make sure that inclusivity is a priority. If they can actually trickle down to affect the midlevel managers who, to your point, who are pretty much responsible for fostering growth in their team, it sounds like maybe that's not the question. It's more so that this is something that should be considered in a very holistic way. It can't just be the CEO. It can't just be the head of HR. Everybody at every level needs to buy in in some ways. How do you ensure that everybody at every level is prioritizing this? 


Edith [00:21:01] I do think that it, at the surface, can seem like something that is too big to tackle, really having every individual own their responsibility and contribute to creating an environment where everyone's got an equal access to opportunity. But the reality is, it's not any different than any other objective in an organization. Does the CEO shirk their responsibility to ensure that every businesses is achieving its goals with respect to client engagement or profitability or whatever the metrics are? 


Edith [00:21:46] No. They're not shirking their responsibility. That's an important part of their job. And we need to take the same very direct approach with respect to ensuring that the number of black people who are in organizations and are represented at every level of an organization takes place. And listen, leaders have a lot that they can do personally. So, for example, I really am sure, and if not, I would encourage, every CEO who sends out a message to go back and think about who is in their inner circle. 


Edith [00:22:23] When they have their next leadership team meeting, when they think about who they are really investing in, I want all of us to take a minute and look around the room and ask the question: If there are no black people in this room, why not? And if there are not any now, what do we need to do, specifically, to make sure that that changes in the near future? 


Edith [00:22:54] I understand—it's hard. It takes time. It's about the pipeline. But in what other aspect of our businesses are we OK with just sort of saying it's going to take time without intentional behavior. 


Kinsey [00:23:11] I think it's an incredible take-away from this conversation I hope people will focus intensely on. If we say that these things take time, that we'll work on it, it's a future us problem, would we ever give the same consideration to something like a financial metric, like profitability, like return on ads? And that we need to think about this as a pillar of creating a successful business, making sure that we employ the right people, that we foster the success and the promotions and everything in those right people who are committed to excellence. 


Kinsey [00:23:46] I want to get your perspective on one thing before we move on to talking about these businesses specifically and the response. As we've seen in the last two weeks or so, a lot of the conversation around issues of diversity and making sure that we have representative workplaces—not only for race, but I would say also for gender and background, in general—socioeconomic statuses are based on this argument that it's a pipeline problem, that it's not let's make sure that we foster the right people within the organization. It's just we can't find the right people. What's your perspective on that? 


Edith [00:24:21] So bias and racism and the history of slavery in this country actually have produced a wide list of things that have impacted the black community. Yes, the education system in this country is broken and that has a profound impact on black people. Yes, the healthcare system in this country has real issues. And we could see that as a result of the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on black people. And the list would continue. 


Edith [00:24:56] The reality, though, is that corporations and individuals and organizations can play a role there. We can get involved in organizations that are really reaching into schools to expand the exposure and the opportunity that children have to excellent education. There's so many opportunities to create new things. But if you look at the historical, there are many opportunities for us to create new organizations. But historically, black colleges have always been at the forefront of educating people of color. 


Edith [00:25:46] There is an opportunity to leverage those organizations to create and to invest in the talent pipeline of the future. Yes, so there are things that have disproportionately affected the black community. But as leaders, we cannot blame our challenges with changing the numbers at every level of the organization on other things in the environment. 


Edith [00:26:18] If you look at the attendance at universities in America and you look at the data of undergraduates and people of color in graduate school, most organizations have not even gotten to the point where the percentage of black people at the entry-level positions even matches that. So that's an important goal right there. The other thing is, is that it's not just about recruiting black talent. It's about understanding and investing their experience, so they have equal opportunities for advancement with organizations. 


Edith [00:26:56] And what do you need to do there? You need to get managers to be better managers. You have to get people comfortable with having a diverse group of people on their teams. We have to get people understanding how important feedback is. And "you're doing just fine" is actually not feedback. And if we start to own those responsibilities differently at every level and we start to really get under the hood of why it is so challenging to get people into the senior ranks of the organization, I promise you that things will start to pivot. 


Edith [00:27:30] And when things start to pivot and you have black perspectives in the room, you'll start to have more. Look at the experience of women. So much progress has been made, so much more work to be done. But when you have more women in the conversations, there's more opportunity for people to advocate for there to be change. 


Kinsey [00:27:54] Yeah. And I want everyone to think—we're gonna take a short break to hear from our sponsor—but while we do, I want everyone to think about where their responsibilities lie right now, because the picture that we have come to see a little bit more clearly right now is that we all do have a responsibility, whether you are one day on the job, whether you're still in school, whether you are the CEO of the company. And there is a responsibility at every level to make sure these conversations are happening. All right, quick break and we'll be right back. —


Kinsey [00:28:23] So, now back to the conversation on diversity in the workplace with Edith Cooper. Edith, I don't have to be the first to point out to our listeners here that we've seen a lot of corporate statements in the past two or so weeks about standing with protesters, peaceful protesters, actually saying black lives matter for, in some cases, the first time ever in the history of these corporations, which is a conversation for another time. 


Kinsey [00:28:53] But why? Why are we seeing so many of these companies come out and make statements about their efforts to make sure they're promoting diversity and making sure they have representative workforces? Do you think that these are actually a turning point in any way? Are we going to see change come from this? 


Edith [00:29:12] We have to see change as a result of the tragedies that we're seeing around us. We must see change. And it's our responsibility to make sure that this time is, in fact, a different, or shall I say, this time contributes aggressively to the change that is required. Why have we gotten here in the way that we have with the rapid reactions and responses, I think it starts with watching the video of George Floyd, pinned to the ground for almost nine minutes. 


Edith [00:29:51] You know, like watch it. If you haven't watched it, watch it. You look at the expression on that man's police officer's face. Listen to George Floyd's voice with respect to just wanting to live another day, you know, calling out for help from his, you know, his mom, who had passed away. It's gut-wrenching, and it's raw, and it is very, very real. And I think that as a result, it struck a chord, as it should, that this human being is being killed in this way. 


Edith [00:30:26] I think we also have the backdrop of the fact that we are still in a pandemic, that we are still actually impacted by the unemployment that's going on around us. The lack of clarity of direction from people who would we expect it from, you know, the leadership of the country. And a worry actually, that that man's life and the life of many others will be for naught. 


Edith [00:31:00] I would also say that if you look at what matters to people who are in the workplace today, and all the surveys from consulting firms say, that on the top five things that matter to employees is the purpose of their work and understanding that their work has an impact. And so, this is a requirement for leaders to really deliver into their people's expectation of the role that their companies play in important things in their lives. 


Edith [00:31:37] Several years ago, I started to get asked the question at Goldman Sachs: Do you feel like you could be your true self at work? And to be honest, when I was first asked that question, I was like, I don't know. It's my job. You know, I am who I am. But I was asked more and more often that question. And I started to not just to answer the question, but to get into why people were asking that. And because I think, and I have learned, that no longer are people willing to leave who they are and what they care about outside of the walls of the firms that they work with. 


Edith [00:32:18] And so whereas maybe four or five years ago, there were conversations taking place from CEOs that said, you know, I know where I stand personally, but I'm not sure whether this is something that is a issue that my organization, you know, should, as a CEO, I don't know whether it's really the appropriate thing for me to be talking about police brutality and I don't I don't feel that—I don't see that in my conversations with CEOs because honestly, none of us will get away with that anymore. 


Edith [00:32:51] That we all have a responsibility as leaders to not just send out an email, not just write a check to support things that are gonna really create change in areas such as social justice and development of pipelines and education, but also to ensure that in our actions and in our being, we are representing the significance of equality in everything that we do. 


Kinsey [00:33:21] Yeah. And it's important to recognize to me how much our jobs, or our professions, or what we do to make money, are part of who we are today. We've talked a lot about the way that we are holding business leaders accountable. But I think we also need to recognize that our jobs are a huge part of our lives, not only from a time perspective, but from a self-identity perspective. Now, more than ever, I would argue that we want to be able to be ourselves at work, like you're saying. 


Kinsey [00:33:49] But we also want that workplace to also want us to be ourselves. I was with a friend last weekend who was expressing to me that she was upset her company's leadership hadn't come out and make a statement about George Floyd's death. That it had taken, at this point, a week, and they still had not said anything. And that gave her pause. She was reconsidering the entire basis of her employment. Is this really a company she wants to identify with for the long term? Can she see a career at some place like that? 


Kinsey [00:34:20] But there are also tangible public-facing ways that these companies are acting beyond just making sure that within the walls of your office that you feel like you can be yourself, that you can come and express yourself to the fullest extent. But there are also these public-facing opportunities to make sure that you're taking a leadership position within your industry, within the economy as a whole. 


Kinsey [00:34:42] We've seen, I believe, the number that I got—and this was the day before we're recording this, so June 10th—this was as of June 10th. Big U.S. corporations have pledged more than $1.7 billion to advance racial justice and equity. Do you think that that is enough? 


Edith [00:34:59] I think that $1.7 billion is significant and I applaud organizations' investment at that kind of magnitude. I wish I had a stat on the size of the U.S. economy and the aggregated profitability of these organizations. But I would venture to say that $1.7 billion, albeit important and significant, is a drop in the bucket. But it is a commitment, and I am not at all suggesting that therefore we should not respect it and applauded it. 


Edith [00:35:42] I'd like to also get a conversation going around what would it look like if we had black representation at every level of the most successful, important organizations? If we had employment numbers in companies that were appropriately reflecting the presence of black people, what that number would be. So $1.7 billion is a good start. It's gonna take a whole lot more than that to support the organizations that are providing thought leadership. But I would encourage everyone to look within their organizations to create economic opportunities that could be a $1 trillion in impact. 


Kinsey [00:36:35] So what can we, as typical everyday consumers, people listening to this podcast, what can we do to make sure we are practicing that accountability? That we are holding big corporations—holding their feet to the fire, in this case? 


Edith [00:36:47] Well, I think that there's a number of things that we can do as individuals. You know, I do think that it is very, very important to read these statements from CEOs. And although they're coming fast and furious, it's important to take note of the things that companies have prioritized in their approach and organizations that they're supporting. I think it tells you a lot about the organization. I think that's why it's so important for people who are looking at their organization and who are asking if we're not involved in this, why not? 


Edith [00:37:22] What does this say about us as an organization? And I think that we should start doing more due diligence around whether we are using our, let's say, capital and interest and presence, to support organizations who are doing this for real. And if there is a company that you have seen that is really putting themselves out there, you know, support that company. Please, please do support black businesses. I'm very proud to be part of the board of Etsy. 


Edith [00:38:01] And it's important because small businesses has always been a very important part of business commerce. I was honored to be recognized over the years by Black Enterprise, most recently with their legacy award. And Earl Graves, otherwise known as Butch, who is the current editor, is very, very vocal about the significance of supporting black businesses. You know, get smart about it, understand where you spend your money and how you spend your money, because that's pretty powerful en masse. 


Edith [00:38:36] I would also encourage every one of us, as individuals, to police ourselves and to really take an honest look at, you know, as individuals, you know, what are we doing in terms of opening our lens on the experience of people of color, black people specifically? You know, the words that have always really mattered to me are empathy. I'm not looking for someone to —. That's not true. I think it's important for people to feel angst and anguish and sorrow when they learn about the black experience, because goodness knows, black people feel it. 


Edith [00:39:15] But I really also want people to have empathy for other people's experience. I want all of us to continue to value diverse perspectives, not just in understanding the experience—how someone experiences race in this country—but how they experience things professionally. And I'd also want all of us to sort of pay attention to who's in our inner universe and get smart about that too. Because there's so many opportunities to get engaged in. And right now, we can't afford not to be engaged. 


Kinsey [00:39:50] Yeah. I think that people my age have definitely taken this conversation upon themselves in ways that I haven't seen before. Maybe that's because we're aging into a position of power in the economy. Maybe it's because we're all sitting at home. But regardless, I think it's important. And we've asked a lot of questions [laughs] in this conversation, Edith, that are very difficult to answer in the amount of time that we have together. 


Kinsey [00:40:14] I want to ask some questions now that I think will be a little bit easier. We're going to do some rapid-fire with the Business Casual wheel. So we're recording this remotely. I have my wheel app, [Edith laughs] and I'll take it for a spin, and we'll ask some quick questions. All right. Oh, hold on. I got to turn the volume up. [sound of a ding]


Edith [00:40:31] And this would be an area where it would have been great to do my homework to hear about the Business Casual wheel. But anyway, let's see how it goes. 


Kinsey [00:40:38] Yeah. We try to keep it a little bit under wraps so that we — 


Edith [00:40:40] OK. 


Kinsey [00:40:40] Actually can get you rapid-fire. OK. [sound of wheel spinning] So it landed on [sound of a ding] The One Thing. So what is the one thing in your life, in your career—it could be a book, a class, a mentor, an album, a quote—that you feel has had the most outsized impact on you. 


Edith [00:40:56] I would say the first thing is my family and my parents. And growing up in an environment where there was an expectation for us to focus on education, actually, and not get confused, that is something that is life-changing and that, you know, you had to be prepared. You had to work hard. And we were fortunate to be in a position where, you know, we didn't have to worry about food on the table or a safe home. 


Edith [00:41:42] And so, therefore, you know, we owed it to our people and ourselves to get the job done. And we were pushed into circumstances that were hard with the expectation that we would succeed. The other thing for me was that people paid attention and were intentional in my development. And often there were people who knew more—saw more potential in me than I saw in myself, particularly because I had so few role models in the corporate sector. 


Edith [00:42:17] But those that I did have, and those that I knew, were so, so instrumental in pushing me forward, for giving me that feedback, and for allowing me an opportunity to really perform to my potential, and being there in situations where things didn't go so well. I mean, I've made mistakes. But that's when you know that you've got the wind at your back—when you trip and you're like flat out on the ground, and the answer is, OK, we won't put you in those situations anymore. It was like, OK, you screwed that up. Here's why. And here's another thing. And please do not do that again. 


Kinsey [00:43:03] I've said on this show before that, to me, you don't grow when you're not challenged. And I agree that having the kinds of people who are surrounding you, who, even when you absolutely make a mess of everything, are there to help you learn from it instead of kicking you when you're down, is invaluable. All right. One more spin. [sound of wheel spinning] [sound of a ding]


Kinsey [00:43:25] What is one thing making you feel optimistic right now? What's one source of optimism in your life? 


Edith [00:43:31] I'm very optimistic about the potential for continued turbocharged change. I have seen it in my lifetime. You know, my parents grew up in the segregated South and couldn't walk into the front door of a store. That's one generation from me. And so I'm optimistic because just, you know, one generation before me, the perseverance of black people, and the rigor and the partnerships that were built to create change, did result in change. 


Edith [00:44:23] And I see that as the opportunity now. And I'm also optimistic because it's clear to me that you and the generation of people who are coming into the workforce now have experienced so much. You've experienced in your lives, you know, a pandemic, racial injustice, violence, and so many other things that you've had enough. And you are going to hold us all accountable. And that makes me optimistic. 


Kinsey [00:44:58] It almost makes me feel emotional thinking about how different the world was one generation ago and how different it hopefully will look by the time I have children and I'm talking to them about these things. So thank you so much, Edith, that was a fantastic answer and a fantastic interview. I learned a lot and I feel energized in this conversation about effecting change, holding leadership accountable, making sure that we're having the right conversations. So thank you so much for being so generous with your time and for coming on Business Casual. 


Edith [00:45:30] Oh, it's been awesome to share thoughts in this conversation. I thought, to sort of conclude, you started out this conversation by saying that it was entirely appropriate to spend some time just talking about people. It is Business Casual. It is about, you know, the economics of it. But nothing happens if we don't focus on the people and human dynamic that's required, and we will be shortchanging ourselves if we continue to leave black people behind. And so I really appreciate the focus that you've put on this and look forward to continuing on this so, so important passion. 


Kinsey [00:46:19] Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Business Casual with Edith Cooper. The Business Casual and Morning Brew teams recently compiled some great lists of content either made by black creators, or featuring important black voices, or bringing up subjects of systemic racism here in the U.S. if you want to spend some time checking those out, head to morningbrew.com and search the Brew's Black Lives Matter syllabus or check out businesscasual.fm/blm. That's businesscasual.fm/blm, and I will see you next time.