Rosalind Brewer, CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance and just one of two Black women to lead a Fortune 500 company, told Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies Summit this week that "a key indicator of a company’s ability to innovate is the diversity of its leadership." And that includes the board of directors.
“A board is there to do a couple things: govern the company, take care of the shareholder, and develop the CEO," she said. "And it takes more than one kind of person to do that."
Brewer noted that "there were five women on the board at Amazon when I was on the board, and the conversations were very rich and in depth because you had cross-sections of people willing to challenge the status quo … "
- KC's View:
I completely agree with this. Companies are best served when their leadership reflects the diversity of their customer base and their employee base. It has been my experience that making this statement often results in some level of resistance, but it usually is coming from old white guys, so I take it with a grain of salt. Change, after all, can be hard.
BTW … the story notes that at Walgreens, "Brewer is championing a strategy for the drugstore chain that’s centered on its new Walgreens Health division. The initiative encompasses an ambitious partnership to bring primary care clinics to hundreds of stores and the creation of Walgreens Health Corners—in-store spaces where certain patients can get specialized screenings and additional care." She's doing this at a time when she's also using her previous experience as COO of Starbucks to find ways to bridge the gap between physical and online experiences, something that she noted that Starbucks did extremely well with its mobile app.
Fast Company notes that "Starbucks has had a rocky past year, beset by labor issues and criticism that the company’s 'third place' philosophy has fallen by the wayside … The growth of Starbucks’s app is, in some ways, to blame for this loss of culture."
All of which is fair. But it makes me wonder if "diversity," at the board or senior advisory levels, ought to extend beyond gender and ethnic definitions, and ought to include people from the front lines. One of the things being exposed at Starbucks at the moment is the degree to which in-store employees were not being listened to, which made it harder for them to do their jobs; in my view, this isn't because they hate the company, but because they feel invested in the company and expect it to live up to their expectations.
Starbucks once-and-current CEO Howard Schultz seems to be taking the opposing view - that the employees that are speaking up for themselves don't like the company, that they are the enemy, and that only he can fix things. In my view, that's a flawed calculus.