Diversity and inclusion: America’s CEOs are showing the path forward

We should honor—not attack—those who have stood up for equality and other cherished American values.

—Intel CEO Brian Krzanich upon his resignation from the American Manufacturing Council

The summer of 2017 has shown that American business is committed to, and prepared to defend, broad-based EEO andConcept of confused business with different directions affirmative action principles. In a rapidly unfolding series of events, equal opportunity, diversity and inclusion, and affirmative action principles have come under attack in America, and America’s CEOs have responded.

CEOs distance themselves from president

The Trump administration has reversed a number of Obama administration EEO policies this summer, making the following moves since July 4:

  • President Donald Trump tweeted on July 26 that the military would not allow transgender individuals to serve, to the apparent surprise of many military leaders.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief in a case before the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, Zarda v. Altitude Express Inc., challenging the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) position that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers sexual orientation.
  • On August 1, the New York Times reported that the DOJ was seeking to sue universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed discriminatory against white applicants.

However, it was President Trump’s response (or lack of response) to the August 12 march by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which a female counterprotester was killed, that created a chasm between his administration and its CEO advisers and supporters.

The president’s failure to strongly condemn the hate groups led CEOs—beginning with Kenneth C. Frazier of Merck, an African American—to resign from the manufacturing council. President Trump’s response to the resignation was to make one of his now classic personal Twitter attacks against Frazier. The business community immediately responded, quickly escalating its criticisms of the president’s statements on Charlottesville.

After more CEOs resigned or threatened to resign, the White House disbanded both the American Manufacturing Council and another corporate advisory board, the Strategic and Policy Forum. Then, 48 hours later, a third corporate group, the Presidential Advisory Council on Infrastructure, was disbanded when additional corporate resignations were threatened.

Bottom line

The corporate leaders’ strong response is instructive and significant. The CEOs’ actions and their willingness to strongly criticize the president for his Charlottesville response have demonstrated the business community’s significant commitment to equal opportunity and inclusiveness. Business leaders’ willingness to engage in high-stakes actions when the most basic political structures failed to support fundamental nondiscrimination demonstrates that corporate leaders value—and, more important, are willing to defend—equal opportunity and inclusion, even in the face of political criticism and retribution.

The CEOs of America’s major corporations have taken the lead to protect diversity and inclusion and to reject hatred and division. CEOs have taken a stand because they know the current and future employees and consumers in America will be more diverse than in the past and that protecting equal opportunity and inclusion will be valued and rewarded. And they are taking a stand even though they may be attacked by the president and others who disagree with their position.

In these fractious times, business executives are filling the vacuum left by political leaders in providing positive david_fortney_photoleadership on equal opportunity and inclusion. As Merck’s Frazier stated in his resignation letter, “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.

David S. Fortney is a cofounder of Fortney & Scott, LLC, in Washington, D.C. You can reach him at dfortney@fortneyscott.com.

H. Juanita M. Beecher is a nationally-recognized expert on Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and EEOC matters.  She is Counsel to Fortney & Scott, LLC with a focus on OFCCP regulatory affairs. She may be contacted at nbeecher@fortneyscott.com

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