Diversity on Boards - in Conversation with Troy Taylor
“When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we become wiser, more inclusive, and better as an organization.” — Pat Wadors
A key skill required on every board is being able to understand and appreciate the power of diversity. Troy Taylor brings forth exactly that quality. Having worked with and in different corporate and ethnic cultures, Troy Taylor shares with us his views on the importance of diversity in an organization.
Troy, diversity has many forms; culture, race, age, gender, lifestyle, economic, geographic, etc. and they all contribute to the long-term sustainability of an organization. How would you approach this ‘challenge’ from a board perspective? And why is this so important? Can you share an experience with us?
“First I would like to state that yes we are all diverse since no to humans are alike, however, I would like to address racial diversity as it exists as an American issue. I am not saying that diversity issues don’t exist in other parts of the world, they certainly do. Some are race based, some are ethnic based and so on. I’m narrowing my conversation here to mainly the U.S. given its historical relationship with people who were brought to its shores as a result of the transatlantic slave trade.
One enduring observation and conclusion that I have come to base on my corporate career is that true sustainable competitive advantage for any company lies in its people and its culture. Products, technologies, patents, new markets, etc. will come and go. If you aren’t investing in your people and culture, you are not doing a prerequisite job in terms of looking at the sustainability of your organization. Hence, if you believe that diverse teams produce superior results and outcomes, why would you not want to maximize your potential by increasing diversity and enhancing your culture.
“Different groups experience the American system differently. As a board or as a company if you want to maximize your impact in society, then you have to hear from all constituencies. An interesting article I read spoke about the launching of Euro-Disney. Euro is a currency, it is not an acronym for European it’s almost like saying we are starting a ‘Dollar-Disney’. How is that meant to work? This goes back to the lack of cultural awareness. Coming back specifically to the U.S., African-Americans experience this country in a very different way. As successful as I may be, when I am driving my car and I see a police officer, my heart rate definitely goes up.
“Today when I am watching TV there are a fair number of advertisements about HIV medication. That’s all good, but there is a huge disproportion in the number of African-American males in these commercials. So really, what’s the subliminal message that they are sending? This may be a benign point, but if a diverse group of people is involved in every conversation then every blind spot will come out and the enterprise will be a lot more successful.
“Another example is that early on in my career I met a professional writer and he was laying out the characters of his new network TV series. There were a number of roles to be cast, some were professionals, some were doctors, lawyers, and some were the seedier characters. What stood out to me was, every drug addict and prostitute in the story was Black. It made me wonder why in this screenplay the writer would naturally gravitate towards that? I have so many examples like this. Another one was my experience whilst serving on the board of a condo complex in Miami. There were several protests in the area and so we were sitting with the chief of security going through the surveillance footage. He automatically made a note that there were ‘suspicious black males’ near the entrance to our complex in the footage. I called him on the phone — we were both looking at the same footage of four men wearing long-sleeved hoodies and their faces were not visible, yet he identified them as Black. He apologized for immediately jumping to that conclusion, but this was not a question of him being racist, it was the way in which he had been acculturated and how he has been socialized to think a certain way.
“The whole conversation around diversity and inclusion is very broad. Until we have those individuals, such as myself, sitting at those tables and participating in conversations that will lead to action, it will be impossible to drive a more desirable outcome. People often say they are not able to find more diverse talent, but it’s more about tapping into the right network and taking a hard look at the stated prerequisite verses the lack of talent or skills. There is an old saying among many black executives “… black people get hired based on their experience, but white people get hired base on their perceived potential…”. As a board we must first acknowledge that we are all shaped by our environment and the images that we experience in our lives. Those experiences shape our perception, and we look for examples that reinforce those perceptions and turn them into our reality. It is a vicious cycle of Observation — Perception — Reality. In order to truly tackle issues around Diversity Equity and Inclusion, as stewards of our corporate entities, we have to broaden our observations which will expand our perceptions which will lead to the creation of a more diverse and inclusive reality…. When is the last time you visited a black church and observed the dynamics of the congregation, or have you ever been the only non-black in an all-black gathering? I’m sure it will be an eye-opening experience?
Thank you for sharing, Troy.
Troy T. Taylor
As a results-oriented senior-level executive, I love spearheading new initiatives. I'm not afraid to buck trends and…