What Would Happen If Companies Proactively Hired Diverse Women For The C-Suite?

What Would Happen If Companies Proactively 

Hired Diverse Women For The C-Suite?

It was announced yesterday, that in the wake of Starbucks’ Vice Chair Howard Schultz’s departure, the revered company executive Mellody Hobson will be taking his place.

Hobson, who boasts an impressive resume as a previous board member at Estée Lauder, DreamWorks Animation and Groupon, is the latest in a string of strategic post-crisis executive appointments that have caught the attention of true diversity advocates.

While the most recent HR move can, one side, be viewed as a natural promotion for a woman who has her fair share of experience and genuinely deserves it, it can also be looked at as a reaction to what Starbucks has been through in recent weeks. With the entire company taking four hours out of its workday last Tuesday to conduct racial bias training following a racially divisive scandal that caught the nation’s attention, it’s clear that they are under the “wokeness” microscope, and feel compelled to make it publically known, ever so slyly, that steps in the right direction are being made.

“I think Starbucks is sending a strong message in doing this,” Jeff Dickerson, a crisis communications adviser in Atlanta, told the Washington Post. “They’re bucking the trend, because ordinarily when large companies find themselves in this situation, they have counsel who will advise them against” admitting they’d done anything wrong.”

Without wanting to diminish the achievements of this incredibly qualified boss woman, is it perhaps, a little convenient that this appointment was made so close to the disaster that occurred not so long ago? Is this perhaps the most beautifully packaged PR stunt Starbucks has executed, superseding even that of the Unicorn Frappuccino?

Does this harken back to Uber’s genius move to appoint fan favorite Bozoma Saint John to her position as Chief Brand Officer in the wake of Travis Kalanick’s disastrous fall from grace? Is there a semblance of a pattern here?

And while sure, the end justifies the means [meaning we are always happy to see more female representation no matter the reason], wouldn’t it be better practice to have women, and diversity as an integral part of the growth of the company from the get-go? Rather than this be a reactionary occurrence when a company is in panic mode, or when facing a crisis that begs a cataclysmic change of company culture, would it not be better to begin developing programs that aid those at a disadvantage entering the workplace?

Talking to Fortune last year, Ursula Burns, the first African-American woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company in Xerox, noted that the reason there are so few women of color at the top of the totem pole is because of the schooling in the country. “Not enough are coming out of the education system to get them all the way through to the C-suite,” she said. And while that might be true, the institutionalized bias against women in the workplace is another major contributing factor that goes almost unrecognized.

This self-serving, and somewhat predictable damage control move begs the question: Are these diverse women being promoted because of the mistakes of white men? And if so, why aren’t more companies proactively hiring or promoting diverse women in order to avoid these PR nightmares?

We recently explored the notion that women have been hired or promoted as CEOs of flailing companies, in order to become a scapegoat for a company’s failures. The “glass cliff,” the “glass ceiling’s” younger, more nefarious sibling, represents a situation whereby companies that are in trouble and looking for new leadership, turn to men first to help them out. But when these men, foreseeing a painful career catastrophe, turn them down, they then look to women, who invariably jump at the opportunity to breakthrough the proverbial glass ceiling, and take a job at the helm of a sinking ship.  

“I think it’s good that she takes it [the job as CEO],” former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz told Freakonomics Radio. “I have no problem with that. But it’s not that all of a sudden the boards wake up and say, ‘Oh, there should be a female here.’ … It’s easier to hide behind: ‘Well, of course, that failed, because it was female.’”

So what do the glass ceiling women, like Bartz, and new hires, like Hobson and Saint John have in common? That they weren’t considered before there was a crisis.

Mellody Hobson
Amy Corcoran

Head of Content at SWAAY: Amy is an Irish writer, avid foodie and feminist with an insatiable appetite for novels and empowering women's writing. She has enjoyed calling Dublin, Paris and now New York her home.

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