The only black female CEO in the Fortune 1000 made her management more diverse and therefore much more productive – that’s what she did

The anti-racism protests and public debate about institutional racism have made many executives realize they need to take matters into their own hands.

More and more companies are pledging to commit to putting underrepresented minority groups in management. Better late than never of course.

Lisa Wardell, CEO of educational institution Adtalem, already made it her mission in 2016. And the results show that she has been extremely successful in doing so.

Wardell, himself African-American, became CEO of Adtalem in 2016 and was the only non-white executive at the time. Over the past four years, she has increased board diversity by 50 percent, filling three positions with professionals from non-white minority groups.

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Adtalem is a commercial higher education institution that runs schools such as the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine and Chamberlain University.

‘Diversity is a logical aim within organisations’

According to Wardell, a diverse leadership is a reflection of society and school environment. This ensures that its employees have a better relationship with students.

In addition, increased diversity in leadership positions has directly translated into higher productivity, Wardell said in an interview with Business Insider. She finds it logical from a business perspective to diversify executive teams.

“As we serve a diverse group of students, it’s important that we understand their points of view and the perspective they approach things from, for example on Black Lives Matter and topics related to racial and social inequality. If we don’t have staff who can help by Navigating these difficult conversations in and around our institutions reflects negatively on us. Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

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We don’t have to rely solely on Wardell’s anecdotal evidence for the success of diversity policies. Research shows that companies with at least one woman on the board do 26 percent better than companies with only men on the board within six years. A 2016 Harvard Business Review article proves that companies that value diversity are more transparent, critical and creative.

Overcoming the hurdle of ‘experience’

But companies striving for more diverse governance stumble upon the experience they demand from a director. According to Wardell, recruiters often only look for candidates with board experience on their resumes. This ensures that the pool to choose from remains small. And the candidates therefore mainly remain white and male.They turned out to be “extremely productive”, she says. In-house mentoring programs and promotions can also help diversify businesses, she says. Especially if you as a manager are confronted with a homogeneous breeding ground of talents.

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“I’ve learned that you don’t just get more diverse leaders in your organization by saying you want them. You have to thoughtfully design programs to educate and grow people from the inside out in leadership positions, and equip them with the skills to do so. to reach.”

There is no easy solution

Wardell is the only black female CEO in the Fortune 1000, the list of US companies with the most revenue.

According to Wardell, her vision of diversity and its successful implementation comes from the transparency and open communication in her 6,800-employee company. Wardell has remained in constant touch with its employees during the pandemic and ongoing protests against police brutality and inequality in America. She also organized virtual ‘town halls’, events where everyone could ask questions about the state of affairs regarding the organization, corona and the protests.

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Leaders need to realize that there is no “easy fix” for diversifying large organizations, Wardell says. The solution lies in creating a transparent culture where racial and social inequalities can be discussed openly. According to the CEO, this is an important step in the right direction. “I think right now people are looking for ways to change the status quo on a personal level,” Wardell says. “Because we don’t all have the power to rewrite laws or make policy. What we can do is look at ourselves. At our interactions within our organizations and businesses. I think change comes with taking the first small steps. “

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Author: Jobly