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May 2018 Newsletter: Intersectional Invisibility, ERGs, and an Interview with Exelon
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May 29, 2018 - Leading in Color Newsletter, Chicago United
May 29, 2018

No doubt you’ve read or heard a contemporary phrase that represents women’s empowerment and voice: Woman Up, Girl Power, #MeToo, #BlackGirlMagic are among well-used options. If Twitter existed 55 years ago, can you guess what would have been trending?  Our money is on The Feminine Mystique, the title of Betty Friedan’s ground-breaking book that dispelled the myth that women could find absolute satisfaction in housewifery and motherhood. 

With the upward trend in the number of female leaders at the top of corporate America, it may be easy to forget that just a couple generations ago, too many women’s aspirations were limited to baking better cakes and perfecting the starched shirt.  Today, there are 24 women serving as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. 

That’s great – until you realize that a year prior, there were 32 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and that, among the current group, none are black women.

There should be no mystery as to why diverse representation matters to business. McKinsey’s 2018 study, Delivering through Diversity notes that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation. 

A recent New York Times article suggests that what's stunting women’s representation in executive positions is broader cultural attitudes towards men and women in leadership. Studies confirm the existence of this common gender bias: men are seen as having leadership qualities (such as gravitas) while women are seen as having supporting-role qualities (such as dependability).  Study respondents said someone named Eric who offered new ideas was a natural leader, while someone named Erica who offered the same idea was not. 

Further, there is a particular challenge faced by women of color in corporate America: intersectional invisibility, or the tendency to be overlooked due to one’s status as a member of two underrepresented groups. Anecdotes from black female executives in Fortune and the Harvard Business Review give us a clearer understanding of the experience of being a “double outsider, neither male nor white,” and how we might address it in the workplace. Many of these executives describe navigating the workplace as “walking a tightrope” of managing their underrepresented identities.

One SVP in pharmaceuticals noted: “I was black, they were white, I was female, they were all male. There was nothing that was an obvious similarity between us. I think I spent my early years trying to mask how different I really was. Every Sunday night I would memorize sports scores, in case I found myself having to talk to somebody about something I didn’t care a thing about.”

It’s no wonder that 56% of professional women of color report being highly on guard, according to a Catalyst poll.  Their ability to develop resilience, emotional intelligence and agility is key for success in spite of barriers, based on a Harvard Business School analysis of African American women who graduated from Harvard Business School.

Structural solutions are necessary; the work Intel is doing is notable. The firm is on track to reach full representation by 2020, leveraging unique approaches such as its retention WarmLine, an online service for Intel’s U.S. employees who are facing challenges that may lead to a resignation. The WarmLine offers support toward solutions. Since its inception, the service has received over 10,000 cases and successfully achieved a 90% retention rate.

It will take innovation and extraordinary intention to change both the narrative and the reality about women in senior leadership roles.  We must each have the commitment and tenacity to do it. 

Harnessing the potential of ERGs as Company Ambassadors 

Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs, are crucial for recruiting, retaining and developing diverse talent, but they often face challenges with helping employees achieve greater upward mobility and professional development. How can companies harness the potential of ERGs and turn it into value for both the company and ERG members? A report by the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University makes the case for refocusing ERGs on goals and activities that promote business objectives:  

  The thesis: ERGs can contribute to the success of both their members and their employers by refocusing their goals and activities on supporting and promoting business objectives
By aligning ERG goals with company goals, ERG members can participate as business partners, gain visibility and advance their careers. The Bentley report further emphasized three types of business contributions that have been the most valuable: 

  Product Development 
ERGs can contribute to the development of products that target customers from their demographic groups. Tapping into ERGs for specialized in-house knowledge can help products meet the needs of their constituencies and in turn can allow ERG members the opportunity to explore a new branch of the company.   

  Cultural awareness training and cultural insight 
ERGs have begun tapping into the insights of employees with cultural ties to particular markets to help with customer relations and sales in those markets. This also allows ERG members a chance to develop their own marketing skills.

  Brand enhancement through community service 
According to a 2011 study by Mercer’s Global Equality Diversity and Inclusion Practice, the most common way ERGs contribute to business operations is by participating in community service work that enhances the company’s brand. This in turn provides ERG members opportunities to demonstrate leadership and find greater purpose in their work. 

DivIHN, led by CEO Council representative Shantanoo Govilkar, joined Chicago United as our 97th member company, bringing us a step closer to our goal of 100 members in 2018. 

DivIHN has joined the ranks of companies exceling in diversity practices like Exelon and ComEd—companies that were both recently named Corporation of the Year by the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council, Inc. , as well as Allstate, Deloitte, KPMG, PwC and Sodexo—all companies recognized as one of 2018’s Best Companies for Multicultural Women by Working Mother

Last fall, Chicago welcomed Dr. Helene Gayle, a New York native, as the newest President and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust, and we welcomed her to Chicago United as the newest CEO Council member. Her recent reflection on equity in Chicago is a must read. 

Be sure to also read 2017 Business Leader of Color Dee Robinson’s thoughts on female entrepreneurship in Crain’s

Lastly, please help us welcome Chicago United’s three newest staff members. They’ve hit the ground running and have brought great energy to our small but mighty team of 10. 


Bridget Reidy, Executive Vice President, Corporate Operations, and Emmett Vaughn, Director, Office of Diverse Business Empowerment, Exelon Corporation

A member of Chicago United since its founding 50 years ago, ComEd has been a role model for companies committed to diversity and inclusion in order to improve and enhance its operations and benefit the communities where they do business.  It has leveraged this leadership to impact its parent company, Exelon Corporation, and businesses beyond its Chicago-area operations.  In this “Conversation With…” executives Bridget Reidy and Emmett Vaughn discuss Exelon’s approach to supplier diversity and how they’ve made the most of Chicago United’s Five Forward program for expanding expenditures with minority-owned companies.

Q. How have your business diversity practices evolved?

Bridget: Exelon has always been committed to diversity and inclusion, and we recognized an opportunity to expand on that and do more.  The Chicago United program was a core element that helped us focus and support a group of local companies.  We developed a curriculum to help diverse suppliers navigate Exelon, build capacity and understand our needs. It also gave structure to the mentor/mentee relationship, which is so important.

In 2008, Exelon’s spend with diverse suppliers was $400 million, roughly 10% of our overall spend, and since Emmett joined us and we customized the Five Forward program, we have more than doubled our spend with diverse companies to $2 billion dollars annually, which represents about 22% of our overall spend. 

Throughout the company, we are committed to increasing our diverse spend – it is an absolute business imperative, just like safety, or our commitment to the environment.  We migrated this initiative to our utilities beyond ComEd, to Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and they’ve realized the benefit of their diverse spend. Baltimore Gas and Electric, for example, has increased their diverse spend by over 14% since we implemented this initiative in 2013. 

Q. What did you learn about strengthening relationships with diverse businesses by participating in the first Five Forward cohort?

Emmett:  We learned that we needed to create something that was more about sustainability. We’ve seen the importance of not just fulfilling a contract from start to finish, but thinking beyond the boundaries of a contract and truly helping companies grow and encouraging them to be better economic anchors in the community.

Bridget: We learned that there are tremendous benefits and value to having a diverse group of suppliers as partners.  Engaging a more diverse supplier base makes us better and more competitive, because they bring new talent and ideas, which result in greater innovation and opportunities for growth. Our leadership also saw how much more effective they can be with different points of view.  We’ve become a stronger, more agile company because of our commitment to diversity, and the Five Forward program served as a catalyst.

Q. You have attracted some of your prime contractors to join in your commitment to Five Forward.  How does this strengthen the local economy?

Emmett: We’d like to believe that we’re an example.  Our supply chain supports the culture of a very rigorous company. We’re committed to keeping the lights on and keeping costs down, but we also create confidence in other companies to follow the example in business diversity. Someone must provide these diverse companies an opportunity to be successful. There are businesses that have told us that we’ve kept their doors open by saving and creating new jobs. We try to get our arms around those cases where we have created opportunities for smaller companies to stabilize and sustain themselves, without compromising our needs to operate efficiently. 

Q. Beyond your prime contractors, are others following your example in the area of diversity business spending?

Bridget: We are the first utility to be named to the Billion Dollar Roundtable, a toplevel advocacy organization that promotes corporate supplier diversity excellence. The organization recognizes companies that reach at least $1 billion or more annually in direct spending with diverse suppliers and Exelon not only achieved but exceeded that goal with our total 2017 diverse spend of $2 billion. With that exposure, companies want to benchmark against us, and understand how we’ve achieved our goal.

CEO Council Summer Breakfast Series 
How is your company addressing the nation’s shifting policies and cultural values? CEO Council Members are invited to share ideas, advice and feedback with a network of executive leaders. Register via the email invitation sent on May 16.
Diversity Officer Roundtable Series 
There are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. Chances are they are your colleagues, employees, business partners or your customers. Diversity Officers have the opportunity to hear from Husna T. Ghani, strategy communications consultant, on strategies for engaging your Muslim colleagues. Register through the email invitation sent on May 24.  
National Thought Leader Forum with Common
Thank you to all our guests for making this our most well-attended event of the year. Check out our new National Thought Leader Forum page on the Chicago United website (video coming soon!) Also, find and share your pictures on Facebook or our website.
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