IBM exec to Baton Rouge firms: Champion inclusion to increase bottom line

Business executives today urged Baton Rouge companies to embrace diversity and tackle issues like race, particularly as tensions have run high since the deaths of Alton Sterling and three law enforcement officers.

BRAC’s annual diversity and inclusion event at the Lod Cook Alumni Center was the latest in a series of initiatives from business, government and community groups aimed at addressing Baton Rouge’s challenges since the high-profile shootings last summer.

The event’s keynote speaker, IBM Chief Diversity Officer Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, argued that millennials are driving a trend toward inclusion in business—particularly in areas like LGBT rights.
“While we may compete on a number of different dimensions, on this issue we can’t and we shouldn’t,” McIntyre said, citing IBM’s initiatives on sexual orientation, gender and race over the years. “Employees are demanding public accountability.”

And McIntyre argued the concept is not just an intangible, lofty goal, even for small businesses. Instead, she said, there is “irrefutable” evidence that championing inclusion will help companies’ bottom lines.

Jeff Cherry, founder of the Baltimore-based Conscious Venture Lab, said in a panel discussion before McIntyre’s speech that his firm creates higher returns for shareholders by focusing first on purpose instead of profits. The “conscious capital” movement is creating a “new narrative about capitalism,” he said.
“The purpose of business is not to create value for shareholders,” Cherry said; instead, creating value should be an outcome of addressing societal ills. “Lots of people in my hometown—New York City, on Wall Street—don’t believe that. But the horse has left the barn.”

Cherry’s argument represents a marked shift from the economic theory that has comprised conventional wisdom on finance for decades, he noted, but millennials are driving a more purpose-driven economy. Plus, Cherry noted, “conscious capitalism” works for companies’ bottom lines.

ExxonMobil’s head of strategic procurement, Douglas Fisher, cited a 2006 study from the Hackett Group that concluded companies that focus on diversifying their supply chain actually get 133% higher returns on their cost of procurement operations.

Fisher said ExxonMobil has sought out minority-, women-, veteran- and LGBT-owned businesses, along with other types of small and disadvantaged companies, over the past several years. The company in 2016 spent $1.4 billion on services and products from such firms—including $100 million for Exxon in Baton Rouge.

Maxine Crump, who founded Dialogue on Race Louisiana, said the workplace has long been divorced from discussions about racism and equity in Baton Rouge, despite the fact that those issues exist even within businesses.

“There is still a silent issue going on in all the companies here in Baton Rouge,” Crump said, noting several firms—including Taylor Porter Law Firm—have engaged her organization to facilitate talks on race. “The attempts to address race in Baton Rouge have not yet met the scale of the problem.”

—Sam Karlin

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