Spearheaded by PwC, CEO Action For Diversity and Inclusion is America’s largest CEO-driven business group committed to advancing diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Believing that that change starts at the executive level, CEO Action has so far signed up more than 700 CEOs of the world’s leading companies and business organisations, to leverage their individual and collective voices to advance workplace diversity and inclusion. Shannon Schuyler, PwC’s chief purpose and inclusion officer, explains how CEO Action was conceived, what it has achieved so far and its future goals.

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How did the idea for CEO Action come about?

CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™ or CEO Action for short was first conceptualised in July 2016 by PwC’s U.S. chairman Tim Ryan, during the first months of his tenure.

At the time, there were several fatal shootings across the country that led him to organise a firmwide conversation on race. What emerged from that single day of dialogue was the idea of bringing CEOs together to advance the importance of diversity and inclusion throughout the business community and society.

Launched in 2017 with 150 signatory CEOs, CEO Action now includes more than 700 CEOs and presidents of America's leading businesses, academic institutions, and non-profits.

Is PwC the chief backer of CEO Action?

Tim Ryan, the PwC U.S. Chairman, is one of ten CEOs that helped to create CEO Action and he currently serves as chair of the steering committee.

To give more background, in the summer of 2016, our society was in the midst of a series of terrible tragedies, from St. Paul and Baton Rouge to Dallas and beyond. They were taking place across the country and were racially driven. When our U.S. chairman Tim Ryan started to bring the topic of diversity and inclusion (D&I) to CEOs in various venues, it led to the insight that D&I is top of mind for these CEOs, but that they don’t have all the answers and would benefit from others’ perspectives and insights. It was from there that the idea was formed.

He recognised that diversity and inclusion is not a competitive issue, but a societal issue that the business community – especially CEOs – can have a critical role in addressing. Rooted in the idea that we can have a greater impact if we work together, Tim brought together CEOs and leaders from Accenture, BCG, Deloitte U.S., The Executive Leadership Council, EY, General Atlantic, KPMG, New York Life and P&G to collectively form and lead CEO Action.

Today it is the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace in the U.S. As a lead signatory, PwC has invested more than $10 million [£7.91 million] to support the coalition's gatherings and Check Your Blind Spots unconscious tour, given that there is no financial commitment required from signatories to sign the pledge.

Do you have plans to take the CEO Action initiative international and why?

CEO Action was designed to bring together companies with a U.S.-based workforce. The nuances of building inclusive workplaces across global regions are incredibly complex; before we strive for broader impact, we are focused on addressing the issues we have not yet resolved. As we continue to evolve as a coalition, we will be exploring how to grow in the future and drive even greater collaboration with as many different voices and perspectives as possible.

What is the new pledge you recently announced?

We are challenging ourselves to do more and accelerate change through a new pledge commitment that calls for signatories to create and share strategic inclusion and diversity plans with boards of directors or equivalent governing bodies. This new commitment acknowledges CEO feedback, as well as the strong demand by investors and stakeholders for boards and CEOs to work together to prioritise and drive accountability around the D&I of an organisation as a critical business differentiator.

As business leaders, we are living through a fundamental business transformation, as well as an evolving federal and state policy landscape. This requires leaders to prioritise D&I, and drive accountability in how we cultivate talent to support the sustainability of organisations now and in the future.

We felt elevating this conversation to boards through concrete, strategic action plans, that build on our current actions, will help drive progress leading to greater innovation, better decision making and stronger company performance.

What initiatives do you currently have going on to help foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Late last year, CEO Action expanded the reach of unconscious bias education in our workplaces and communities through the launch of the Check Your Blind Spots mobile tour, designed to help raise awareness around our unconscious bias and educate people on how they can take action to build a more inclusive network. Through technology like virtual reality, gamification, and more, tour participants gain an introspective look at the unconscious biases people face on a daily basis to better understand different perspectives and experiences.

The coalition’s steering committee has also provided a full suite of unconscious bias training materials and guidance on facilitating courageous conversations to signatory organizations.

Because CEO Action is built on the fundamental idea that leaders can and must be champions of change, the coalition continues to create collective opportunities for shared learning, including the annual CEO Closed-Door Session.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

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