Robert F. Smith, who was recognized by Forbes for his contributions to diversity and inclusion in the workplace this past year, offered the idea of “conscious inclusion” to CEOs looking to put into practice promises regarding diversity made over the last year.
When speaking of cultural movements with the BlackNorth Initiative’s Wes Hall at a recent virtual speaker series, Smith outlined ideas about how business leadership can help stamp out racism and build inclusive ecosystems. For things to change, Black and minority workers must have access to resources and positions that will groom them for C-Suite and Board level positions.
“[…] racism for a long time was just the way things were,” Smith said. “And now, eradicating racism is the way things should be. So, you have to think about: what is the new paradigm to make that happen. And I think it is the CEO statesman that has the capacity to do that faster and more effectively than a lot of government policies. Because, they know exactly where their reach is and they can make that change with the stroke of a pen.”
CEOs Must Work to Make Change Happen
One sure way to get more Blacks, women and other diverse people on the boards of public and private companies is for CEOs to build new ways to ensure diversification is successful.
“If you don’t have a pipeline, build the pipeline,” Smith said. Don’t stick to what you know.
At the Black Business Matters Expo, Smith said that a properly trained accountant can be placed on the audit committee of almost any company. To that end, to bring in African Americans from leading accounting firms, all that would be needed was a program to recognize them and supply the knowledge regarding revenue recognition to train them for participation on private boards.
Vista Equity Partners, the company Smith founded and of which he is CEO and Chairman, recently expanded the independent board program it began in 2017. That program aims to utilize the business partnerships of the financial and tech industries, where Vista is a leader, to source qualified board candidates for its portfolio companies.
The program has a dedicated team working to identify potential independent board members, specifically attempting to identify and promote diverse candidates. The idea behind the programs is that diverse boards create a dynamic environment which serves to advance and accelerate the growth of companies.
“Diversity of thought and experience is essential in today’s world and a fundamental driver of business success in the digital age,” Smith said in a recent statement about the board placements. “We are pleased with the commitments, partnerships and placements we’ve made to progress our independent board program and the impact it has on our companies’ growth, innovation and long-term results.”
Expanding Conscious Inclusion by Business Leaders
Robert F. Smith is a mentor to a whole generation of up-and-coming Black entrepreneurs and an advocate for the idea of conscious inclusion. Conscious inclusion is about utilizing the assets to feed capital into the capillary banking systems or capillary supply chain systems, according to Smith. Smith offered three steps for CEOs at the virtual talk at BlackNorth and later elaborated on the reasons why during a talk he gave at the Black Business Expo 2021.
“The most important is, be thoughtful about an ideology about conscious inclusion,” Smith said during the BlackNorth talk. “CEOs have the great advantage of seeing the entire infrastructure of which they are the purveyors and managers. So, implement conscious inclusion not just in your hiring practices, but in your supply chain purchases.”
- First step: Don’t just think about hiring, think about buying. Small black-owned businesses need purchase orders to get the capital they need to reinvest and grow.
- Second step: “Think holistically,” Smith said. Whether you are in the healthcare or telecom industry, think about how to deliver solutions to communities that don’t have them.
- Third step: Reinvest your capital in Black banks and investments. Small community loans serve neighborhoods and build jobs and lives.
At the Black Business Matters Expo 2021, Smith explained that having a lack of small businesses to hire local talent creates an “opportunity desert,” which in turn creates a feedback loop defined by a lack of capital and resources. To illustrate his point regarding solutions, Smith used broadband as an example.
“[…]if you deliver broadband to a neighborhood, you can deliver higher educational services. You can now start to deliver telemedicine and to help our folks who don’t have access,” Smith said. “You can now start to think about: how do you deliver to our small to medium businesses, higher forms of technology capability to run those businesses better. Which, in and of itself, creates a whole set of jobs to support those companies and those small to medium businesses.”
Creating Black Generational Wealth is Also a Moral Imperative
Creating wealth to spur economic uplift in African American communities is essential. At the Black Business Expo, Smith reminded his virtual audience that the first part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech was about coming to cash an economic check.
“‘It does not pay cash. It is currently unfilled.’ And I think that’s part of what our generation has to take on. We have to get economic uplift into our communities,” Smith said. “And listen. It’s not just an economic imperative it’s a moral one that we need to focus on.”
Watch Smith’s Talk at the Black Business Matters Expo
Smith spoke at length with Afro American Newspaper’s Rev. Dr. Frances Toni Draper at the 12th annual Black Business Matters Expo on February 18, 2021. Watch the talk on Smith’s YouTube channel.