Last month, Botham Shem Jean (“Bo”), a 26-year-old young professional and native of St. Lucia who worked at PwC, was shot and killed in his Dallas home by an off-duty police officer.
The tragedy immediately launched an outpouring from Bo’s colleagues about what an extraordinary colleague and friend he was at PwC. Employees experienced the flow of countless emails, texts, and conversations from people not affiliated with the company who expressed their anguish over Bo’s tragic death.
There was also dismay in grasping how a tragedy like this could even happen in the first place: Bo was a young black man, and shot by a white police officer in his own apartment. In addition to the shock felt by many PwC employees, many of the company’s black professionals found themselves coping with their feelings of fear - ones which they live each and every day, and now, have become even present within their own homes.
For Tim Ryan, Bo’s shocking death has again pushed him to take even more action. After all, it was only two years ago when Ryan found himself having to start difficult conversations about diversity, inclusion and race.
In summer 2016, wIthin days after Ryan took the helm as CEO of PwC, Alton Sterling was shot in Baton Rouge, followed by a violent protest in Dallas during which five police officers were shot and killed. Shortly after that moment Ryan, in consultation with his team, decided PwC’s employees needed to have that difficult conversation about race.
Five days into his new job, Ryan sent a no-holds-barred company-wide email to PwC’s staff that aimed to break down barriers and start those difficult conversations about race in America. Hundreds of employees responded in kind with a wide range of opinions and emotions. One email to Ryan was particularly hit home: “When I came to work, the silence was deafening͛,” wrote an employee.
From those conversations, Ryan took the lead in creating the groundbreaking coalition, CEO Act!on for Diversity and Inclusion (CEO Action). Launched in June 2017, with the goal of inspiring 30 to 40 CEOs to sign up, CEO Action currently boasts over 500 CEOs and company presidents across 85 industries, as well as 40 educational institutions and associations committed to change how the business community addresses diversity and inclusion - and doing so by fostering workplace cultures where all ideas and perspectives are welcomed and encouraged.
Now, Bo’s death has led Ryan to push these conversations even further.
Over the past few weeks, PwC held more conversations about race across its offices. What these various talks were strongly in alignment with CEO Action’s original goals: bottom line, with increased dialogue, comes increased understanding.
The reality for many citizens is that day-to-day, plenty of challenges confront people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ and other groups often underrepresented across the U.S. workforce. CEO Action says it is determined to help others recognize that indeed, unconscious bias does exist and it is a barrier to continued progress and full equality.
The fact is that corporate leaders have the money, power and influence that can help create a far more equitable and fair society. To that end, CEO Action has presented two calls to action to the U.S. business community.
A collective day of dialogue on differences, December 7
On Friday, December 7, CEO Action is asking companies to have a discussion of understanding, across the U.S., on the same day. The goal of this “day of dialogue” is to embrace differences within organizations, educate employees and construct more inclusive cultures inside and outside of the office. “To put it simply, if we listen and understand each other better as human beings, we’ll do things differently,” said Ryan in an email sent to the signatories of CEO Action.
CEO Action realizes that kickstarting such conversations can be difficult. Therefore, the organization will offer companies with resources designed to facilitate such conversations at no cost to participating companies. Materials will include unconscious bias training materials, suggested best practices for facilitating difficult conversations on race and diversity, and even personal facilitators who will arbitrate such discussions. Companies interested in participating simply need to click here to have a representative of CEO Action reach out to discuss and launch the next steps.
Expanding CEO Action’s footprint into local communities
CEO Action has already launched the Check Your Blind Spots mobile tour, an interactive bus that intends to visit over 100 offices and universities while reaching 1 million people around the U.S. to deliver unconscious bias trainings. Now, the tour will visit even more communities across the U.S. This program’s goal is to not just to visit offices, but go where people live. According to CEO Action, the goal of this program is simple: to work with neighbors so that they understand that by being cognizant of bias, everyone can be part of the solution.
“We realize that both of these are significant actions - but if we are serious about moving the needle, we must be bold,” Ryan wrote, acknowledging that for many companies, this may be a heavy lift - but these conversations about race, diversity and equality are far more important to go unsaid.
PwC will be at 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – The Long View to discuss CEO Action, and Tim Ryan is a finalist for CR Magazine’s Responsible CEO of the Year award. Winners will be announced at a dinner the evening of October 24.
Image credit: CEO Action
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.