Discussion: Role of Race in the Workplace

Jan 26, 2017

L to R: Tim Ryan, Sharon Taylor, Carlos Rodriguez, Elena Richards, John Schreiber
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

Leaders of several Fortune 500 companies were at NJPAC to discuss race and ethnicity in the workplace. 

Ethnicity and race can be uncomfortable topics in a workplace setting.  Elena Richards, talent manager with PwC moderated the roundtable discussion.  She says racial insecurity is still very much an issue.

“For so long in corporate America, I think we all believe that you have to be somewhat color blind,” Richards said.  “You can’t ignore the fact that I’m a 5’9” black female when I walk into a room.  I think, or at least from my experiences walking into that room, the first thing I think of no matter what is ‘what are they thinking about me?’”

Tim Ryan, US Chairman of the accounting firm PwC says part of their culture is to speak openly about it.

“People aren’t going to be remembered for how well they drove profits, that’s a given.  The real opportunity is taking one our biggest societal challenges and biggest societal opportunities, and being known as a leader in making a difference.  People that sit in the proverbial corner office have a massive responsibility and opportunity,” Ryan said.

NJPAC hosted leaders in 3 Fortune 500 companies to talk about discussing race in the workplace
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

Some company leaders use personal experience to break the ice. 

“To be able to go from arriving in the country with only a suit case, my family are the ones who came with nothing to this country, and to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company is something I think to celebrate and share with other people,” said Carlos Rodriguez, president of the human resources company ADP.

Sharon Taylor of Prudential Financial says large companies are creating inventive ways to hold conversations on race.

“It takes leadership of us as leaders and particularly people of color who are leaders.  A turtle won’t get anywhere if it’s not willing to stick it’s neck out.  You’re called upon to lead by example to have the more difficult conversations.”

Dozens of business owners and employees attended the NJPAC event.