Mellody Hobson on Diversity in Corporate America: ‘If It Matters, It’s Counted’
Investor Mellody Hobson has a message for corporate America.
“If it matters, it’s counted,” Hobson told Variety during a keynote conversation held as part of Power of Women: Conversations presented by Lifetime and featured on the latest episode of Variety podcast “Strictly Business.”
“Start counting. Just count. I love the saying that math has no opinion,” said Hobson, who is president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments.
Hobson, former board chair of DreamWorks Animation, is a prominent voice in the financial community on investment strategies, the need for greater financial literacy among the general public and how corporate America needs to reflect the increasingly multicultural nation it serves in order to thrive. Hobson at present serves as a director for Starbucks and JPMorgan Chase.
The process of scrutinizing a company’s track record on diversity and inclusion can’t be engineered to deliver the most rosy optics possible. It has to be an honest accounting.
“Look at the organization from top to bottom, start at the board, look by ethnicity and gender,” Hobson said.
The temptation, she notes, is to put all of those in BIPOC realm into one “multicultural umbrella where you put everyone together and roll it all up so the numbers look great,” Hobson said. “By counting by ethnicity and gender, you see where the under-representation is. You do the C-suite, you do the next level of executives all the way down. There’s no patting yourself on the back, giving some big ethnicity number when 90% of your ethnicity comes from the assistant level. That doesn’t work.”
The nation’s heightened focus on diversity and inclusion comes hand in hand with technology-driven business disruptions hitting virtually all economic sectors, Hobson observed.
“Everything is being disrupted — everything,” she said. “When you’re in a certain industry, you always think it’s just you. The asset management business has been disrupted by passive management. When I was on the board of Estee Lauder, the whole role of department stores was changing and they were responding to that.”
The level of disruption is “very real,” she said. “I love the line from Warren Buffett, who said ‘Champions adapt.’ And I think that the great thing about the (board) rooms that I’ve been in, I’ve been in rooms with champions. And so they figured out ways to adapt to the disruption that has come at them and ultimately how to survive and thrive.”
“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.