Panelists General George W. Casey Jr., Bain & Co. Managing Partner Hernan Saenz, and Mercer CFO Helen Shan discuss Leading Diverse Teams: How to Leverage Diversity in Your Career
by Sherrie Negrea
When Ann E. Dunwoody became the first woman to attain four-star rank in the U.S. military in 2008, the change at her first meeting with the Army's other top commanders was immediately apparent.
"The first time she opened her mouth, the impact was instantaneous," said General George W. Casey Jr., a distinguished senior lecturer of leadership at Johnson. "She had a different view, and we all said, 'I wish I had thought of that.' ”
Casey, who led the U.S. Army from 2007 to 2011, was one of three panelists who spoke about leading diverse teams in organizations at Johnson's 2014 Diversity Symposium at Sage Hall on Oct. 24.
One of the ways to create diverse teams, Casey said, is to identify competent personnel and mentor them through the promotion process. Dunwoody, for example, was viewed as having the qualifications to become a four-star general, and top military commanders managed her for about seven years until she was promoted to the top rank.
"We knew she had the capabilities, we gave her the experience, and when she got there she was qualified to do the job," Casey said. "And it wasn't enough to put the four stars on her. She had to be successful, and she was."
Another panelist, Hernan Saenz, MBA ’98, MILR ’98, a managing partner with Bain & Co., recalled that when he became a consultant 20 years ago, the major challenge was "getting people in the door." Although that problem has been resolved, companies still need to focus on creating a "leadership supply chain" so that there are qualified candidates who can be promoted. "You can't just make generals in one day," Saenz said.
Helen Shan, MBA ’93, the chief financial officer of Mercer, said it is more effective to advocate for diversity programs in organizations by using a "pull" — rather than a "push"— strategy. The reason companies should embrace diversity, she said, is because incorporating people with different views and backgrounds on teams creates the best business outcomes.
"If you can show that by having diversity you'll have better products, that's far more powerful," she said.
The three panelists attributed their success to a combination of luck and the ability to work for mentors whom they could emulate. When Shan worked for JP Morgan Securities, her supervisor was a woman a generation older who carved out a path for her. While their personalities were in stark contrast, Shan said, "There were things about what she did that I could do: listen, be empathetic, and learn what the client wants."
Although companies and organizations such as the military have embraced diversity, they still need to continually prioritize it as a key management goal. Casey recalled that when he returned to Washington after leading the Coalition Forces in Iraq in 2007, he had to reenergize the Army's diversity program, because it was languishing.
"There are a lot of folks who say we're done with diversity, that it's over, that we've succeeded," Casey said. "Most of those are white people. But it's the responsibility of the leaders of the organization to keep focused on it and not let it drop off, because we're not done."