A Q & A with Executive Leadership Council President & CEO Mike Hyter

Q. Mike, you work with some of the world’s leading companies. What are top of mind issues for CEOs now?

A. We live in a challenging world that is upending the traditional strategies that CEOs employ. In addition to CEOs being able to drive growth amidst technology change like A.I., economic fluctuations, geopolitical uncertainty, and shifting consumer behaviors, CEOs (the entire C-Suite, really) are thinking about addressing newer employee expectations, such as remote work, upgraded benefits and having a corporate position on key social issues. CEOs are also considering how to embed the right cultural values into their organizations. What positions should be taken on old and new business policies (e.g. reproductive health benefits)? Who are the priority stakeholders when there are conflicting views (e.g. foreign investments)? What to do or say when what’s good for business can put the company in political crosshairs (e.g. DEI)?

Q. We’ve seen the landscape and attitudes shift quite a bit when it comes to DEI. Tell us The ELC’s perspective, as the pre-eminent membership organization of more than 800 current and former Black CEOs, senior executives, and board directors representing the largest companies and major firms?

A. The assault on DEI doesn’t follow the facts of how DEI has helped this country advance in business and as a society. What started in the 1960s and was narrowly defined to address specific inequalities and injustices, has evolved to reflect the value gained by working together towards a workplace and nation where every individual can and is expected to contribute. The McKinsey Diversity Matters Even More report shows companies in the top-quartile of gender or ethnic diversity are 39% more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile. It is an ELC imperative to proactively emphasize the importance, necessity, and value of DEI in corporate America.

Q. Many companies are rethinking DEI policies and practices in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2023 Affirmative Action decisions. What is your response to those actions?

A. The most important point to note is that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina were rendered solely about admissions in higher education admissions, not corporate business practices. And even in that context, Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion states, “Nothing in the opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise.” DEI opponents want to conflate DEI with Affirmative Action and cite the Supreme Court’s decisions as reasons to back away. They are separate issues.

Q. How does or should DEI rank in the expectations of corporate America today?

A. Shareholders, investors, employees – stakeholders of all stripes — want their companies to be peak performers. Diversity, equity, and inclusion has been proven to enhance profitability, decision-making, and employee retention and attraction making it a legitimate, strong business objective. With inclusive teams improving team performance by up to 30%, according to Gartner Research, DEI ought to be a top priority for CEO’s and C-Suites.

Q. What, specifically, is the ELC doing to champion DEI?

A. The ELC has been actively engaged in various initiatives aimed at advancing DEI, including releasing a public letter offering our support to corporate CEOs, and encouraging them to stay the course with their DEI initiatives. We have held and participated in collaborative sessions with influential figures such as Congressman Steven Horseford (NV-04) and Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford who authored an open letter rebutting the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action. Our DEI fireside chats and LinkedIn Speaker series solicits voices that have a strong influence in the DEI space — from prominent political figures to C-suite executives, grassroot organizations and high-ranking C-suite members. One of our endeavors that I am most excited about is our voter engagement campaign. Protecting DEI cannot solely rest on the shoulders of corporate America. We have the ballot box.

Q. How can Black executives, many of whom are ELC members, navigate the wide array of attitudes and expectations regarding DEI in the workplace?

A. First, we must acknowledge that DEI is broader than skin tone. Diversity is inclusive of gender, religion, disability and more. There is so much richness in diversity and it comes with economic power. The economic impact of including underrepresented communities is significant. If racial gaps closed today, the U.S. economy could be an estimated $8 trillion larger by 2050, according to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Equity is simply fair and impartial treatment. Inclusion does not exclude by virtue of the word. How all this translates into ways Black executives can navigate DEI is to first not be defined by other’s misperceptions.

Second, when you think about how broad and beneficial DEI really is to business success, it is easier to support as a standard practice. It allows more focus on navigating the traditional twists and turns of being an executive – such as moving the business forward, building networks, identifying other supportive leaders (stay open-minded and unbiased), finding the right forum/persons to engage, building recommendations based on facts, and listening with respect. We are in volatile times independent of the DEI debate. Current research shows that stress levels are higher for all groups. Awareness and self-care are crucial, too. During our annual member meetings we make a point of having safe space conversations for that reason.

Q. What are some considerations for the future of DEI?

A. The weaponization of DEI is real and we expect that to intensify as we get deeper into the election year. Even so, companies are still in the fight for DEI because they know the business value. But we cannot deny the chilling effect that the opposition is having. That is why we – the ELC and other like-minded organizations – will continue to build an inclusive business leadership pipeline that empowers global Black leaders to make impactful contributions in the marketplace and in the global communities we serve. We support those who share our commitment.

Q. What can we expect to see from The ELC in 2024 and beyond?

A. One year ago in these pages, I had the honor of recognizing the strong contributions of Black executives who have advanced DEI in businesses across corporate America. I want to take a moment to salute them again, especially as we join them in championing DEI. The ELC will continue to grow our membership and provide leadership support opportunities that are central to our mission.

At our recent Winter Member Meeting we held a breakout session where our members brainstormed innovative ways to continue DEI efforts. They were energized, determined and ready to do the work. That kind of attitude is exactly what corporate America needs to be successful.

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