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December 7th: A Day of Understanding

johnhowell headshotWords by John Howell
Brands Taking Stands
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For older and/or historically inclined Americans, December 7th is “a date will live in infamy”—the anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that made World War II truly global.

For CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, a coalition of over 500 CEOS who have committed their companies to support programs on the issue in the workplace, this December 7th is the first “Day of Understanding.”

The event will consist of a daylong discussion to be held within respective signatory companies to help build more inclusive cultures inside and outside of their workplaces. Sessions will be unique to individual companies depending on the company, the aspects of the diversity and inclusion that it aims to address, and the location of its workforce (whether virtual, across locations or gather in one place). Each session will reflect the distinctive organizational culture of the business but the goal is a common one for all participants: “to build a more trusting place to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion.”

CEO Action was started in 2017 by Tim Ryan, Chairman of PwC U.S., who saw enlisting chief executives as key to driving real change. For Ryan, it’s personal: "My goal is to help be one of the many leaders, who can help American business be relevant on inclusion." The initiative took on extra urgency when Botham Jean, a 26-year-old black associate at PwC, was shot and killed in his Dallas home by an off-duty police officer this September. In an email, Ryan encouraged all employees to "take time to understand the experiences our underrepresented minorities — and especially, in this situation, our black colleagues — experience in everyday life so that we can all be better co-workers, friends and allies."

The country-wide “Day of Understanding” across CEO Action’s many companies is an outgrowth of Ryan’s call for a time out to reflect on the Jean shooting. The CEO Action Steering Committee will provide each organization with resources to facilitate the sessions, including unconscious bias training materials, difficult conversation best practices and personal facilitators to help companies shape the discussions and customize the sessions to their organizational culture.

CEO Action said in a statement: “One of the core commitments within CEO Action is to make our workplaces trusting places to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion. We feel that by encouraging an ongoing dialogue, we are building trust, encouraging compassion and open-mindedness, and reinforcing our commitment to a culture of inclusivity across our companies.”

As difficult and even uncomfortable as many of the conversations might be, Ryan is 100 percent behind the need for them to take place—especially as driven by business leaders. "While I may not be Latino or black or female, I am a leader of our people and that's where my responsibility lies: to our ethics, to our values, to our people, and to our clients,” Ryan told CNN.

“I think it's the responsibility, regardless of what you look like, or who you are, to take this issue on.”

Image credit: CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion

John Howell headshotJohn Howell

John Howell, Chief of Thought Leadership and Editorial Director, is a co-founder of 3BL Media, the parent company of Triple Pundit, begun in 2009. Howell oversees original editorial content procurement and creation. He is also the author of the weekly Brands Taking Stands Newsletter. He has written and edited for Elle, Artforum, High Times, the New York Times Magazine, and the LA Times. Howell is based in Wonalancet, NH.

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