Sephora, the cosmetics chain, closed all of its stores for an hour on Wednesday for inclusivity training. Wow! That was an expensive investment that shows they take the challenge seriously. The company held the training – which leaders said was in the works for six months – after R&B star SZA reported that a Sephora employee called security while she was shopping to make sure she wasn’t stealing.
The brand apologized to SZA. They’re not the first to find themselves in this situation. Remember what happened at Starbucks last year? The coffee chain closed more than 8,000 stores in May 2018 to offer racial bias training following the arrest of two black men for allegedly trespassing at a shop in Philadelphia. Turns out they were waiting for a friend.
Embarrassing as the latest headlines were for Sephora, I have to applaud its leadership team for admitting there was a problem and then taking action publicly, instead of trying to handle things quietly and sweep it under the rug. Sephora has built a marketing campaign that celebrates diversity around the tagline “Let’s beauty together.” Its leaders took a strong stand in favor of its brand promise, in a rare opportunity to demonstrate brand values. No one should ever be made to feel uncomfortable or harassed when they come to a place of business, whether it’s a store, a restaurant or a professional services firm.
Stories like this one are a good reminder to us all that business leaders can’t be too proactive about diversity and inclusion training today. Through a thoughtless or hurtful action, any employee in any role can seriously harm an entire company’s reputation and goodwill with stakeholders. Trying to ignore issues like unconscious bias and hoping for the best just doesn’t cut it.
Of course, there’s only so much you can accomplish in a short workshop. Underlying it needs to be a strong organizational commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Here at Marcum, we’ve found that there is always room to learn and improve on this front, so we’ve formalized our efforts. To make sure we’re embracing best practices and staying current, I’ve personally committed to the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. There are 600 CEOs behind it. I firmly believe that employing team members from varied backgrounds helps us see many perspectives on the issues that face our clients and bring them the best solutions.
Our co-chief human resources officer Saran Johnson plays a major role in leading our efforts, as chair of our Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee. She ensures that we use creative approaches to recruiting diverse talent. She also leads efforts to engage associates in diversity and inclusion awareness and celebrate our diverse team through programs like the monthly Associate Spotlights.
The Marcum Women’s Initiative is also helping our firm continue to evolve. It is focused on creating an environment where women want to work and where they have many opportunities to advance. A number of our senior women have built careers here and now are national service line leaders, office managing partners and senior executive staff, including Saran and her co-HR chief Molly Crane. Many of our team members – both women and men – take advantage of the flexibility we offer through alternative work arrangements, core hours and even a sabbatical program to balance their careers with outside responsibilities.
No one can turn back the clock and undo the treatment that SZA experienced. However, we can all learn from what happened and take steps within our own companies to make sure everyone on our team is treating fellow human beings with the respect and dignity they deserve.
When I woke up yesterday morning I was lucky enough to find the ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy Beach being televised. It was a proud American moment to see French President Macron and U.S. President Trump, as well as other dignitaries, standing shoulder to shoulder saluting those who gave their lives to thwart the Nazi invasion. I’ve actually been to the American cemetery at Normandy and it’s an awe-inspiring experience. It was nice to see our country standing in solidarity with our longtime allies.