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DIAL Global Summit: Black Lives Matter highlighted the need for CEOs to speak up

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Saleha Riaz
·4 min read
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WATCH: DIAL Global Summit day 1

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has put the spotlight on why CEOs need to speak up, according to speakers at the DIAL Global summit which kicked off on Tuesday.

Company bosses on a panel discussion on ‘2021 Trend: CEO Activists’ talked about on how the issue of diversity and inclusion became top of mind for all businesses when the movement gained momentum last summer.

Co-op CEO Steve Murrell said that “the moment tragic story of George Floyd’s passing played out, I remember thinking how wrong it was” and knew he absolutely had to make a statement.

He admitted that as a “middle-aged white man” he didn’t have all the answers, but “I knew I had to say what happened was wrong and something had to be done about it.”

DIAL Global Virtual Summit, in partnership with Yahoo Finance owner-Verizon Media (VZ), is a two-day free event where senior leaders from FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 Companies discuss diversity, inclusion, and belonging and how these components are essential for successful businesses.

“We’ve gathered some of the world’s most authentic and inspirational leaders to talk openly about hot topics in diversity,” said Leila McKenzie-Delis, CEO and Founder of DIAL Global.

“We leave behind the rhetoric and empty talk about diversity and inclusion and talk about what really matters — real actions and real results. This Global Summit allows us all to learn from each other about how to best create change in our workplaces and in our lives. Because in our workplaces, there is much to do, much to heal, much to restore, much to build and a lot more to gain.”

READ MORE: Businesses led by ethnic minorities contribute £74bn annually to UK economy

During the virtual panel, Murrell mentioned Co-op has “made some bold steps” in this space including creating a think-tank “to keep us honest and focused on real issues” with the aim of becoming truly anti-racist as a company.

In the panel, entitled ‘2021 Trend: CEO Activists,’ the chiefs of Co-Op and ICIS & Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions, and the managing director of Britvic, discussed how executives are balancing the growing need to speak up and speak out with their roles. Photo: Yahoo Finance
In the panel, entitled ‘2021 Trend: CEO Activists,’ the chiefs of Co-Op and ICIS & Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions, and the managing director of Britvic, discussed how executives are balancing the growing need to speak up and speak out with their roles. Photo: Yahoo Finance

Murrell mentioned how he was criticised for standing outside Sainsburys in support of one of their advertisements featuring black actors, which was met with backlash.

However, he said it was important that “as an industry we hold hands and work together”. He said the positives of doing so “heavily outweigh the negative.” While some criticised him, others saw the “genuineness” of what “we are all trying to do.”

The importance for CEOs who want to speak up about social issues to be genuine and authentic was also key, the executives discussed.

Dean Curtis from ICIS said that authenticity, vulnerability and humility in leadership is more often seen now than it was a decade ago.

Paul Graham from Britvic agreed, adding that these are crucial characteristics to have because it makes staff want to get behind you and want you to succeed in whatever issue you may get behind

Graham said that if a leader is not authentic and is merely going after “tokenism, tick boxing and bandwagon jumping” people will see right through it.

“They know when we mean it and when we don’t,” he said.

READ MORE: #ChamberBreakers: Key steps in solving the complex equation of diversity, inclusion, and CSR

In his keynote before the panel, Murrell pointed out that when he looked at the issue of inclusion a couple of years ago “the easiest thing was to go into a recruiting exercise” and hire a certain number of individuals from minority backgrounds. But he said that would have been a “disaster” because the company didn’t have a infrastructure that would allow such people to flourish.

He stressed that first such a framework needs to be put in place. He said Co-op is now in a place where it can make a commercial decision not to partner with companies that may not share its vision of diversity and inclusion.

Meanwhile, Curtis also said “BLM has certainly increased awareness around diversity and inclusion” and stressed that being a leader is a matter for responsibility and privilege and the platform afforded to leaders must also be used for social good.