In 2013 I was interviewing John Mackey, the founding CEO of Whole Foods, and he shared an insight that has resonated with me to this day, “Businesses cannot survive without profits, just like my body can’t survive without producing red blood cells, but my purpose is not to produce red blood cells.” Today, that concept has moved center stage as enterprises focus deeply on becoming purpose-driven companies.
So, on May 18, Women Business Collaborative had a CEO roundtable where four leaders shared valuable insights on becoming a great, purpose-driven company as well as on personal success. At the core of being purpose-driven is creating parity, and at the heart of that is gender parity. Below are some important quotes from the four CEOs.
Susan K. Neely, president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) talked about women and equity, “Women face unique challenges when it comes to living healthy and financially secure lives, including the gender pay and savings gaps. The life insurance industry is advancing solutions that break down barriers and expand opportunities for women.” She then elaborated on the role of a leader, “One of the most important powers that we have as leaders is our ability to lift up the voices of our teammates and make sure they are heard and valued. By fostering a culture of diverse thought and perspective, we make our organizations and world better.”
Dan Dye, CEO of Ardent Mills, cited as a top 10 culture in America shared an insight on gender parity, “Organizations need to be genuinely committed to gender parity and diversity. We need to challenge excuses and rationalizations and break down barriers. For example, in our operations and plant settings there has been a history of predominantly male employees. To help tackle this, we invested in better locker rooms and facilities for women, we gave women a voice through various channels to help identify challenges, and we actively participate in industry meetings and events to raise the issues, challenges and opportunities more broadly and provide bold industry leadership.”
Suneera Madhani, founder and CEO, of the unicorn company Stax, an innovative tech company that radically simplifies the payment ecosystem, communicated some startling facts about gender equity, “Less than 2% of female founders ever break a million in revenue, less than 1% of capital goes to minorities, and it’s in the decimals when it comes to women of color. There’s a lot of dialogue happening, but the statistics are not changing. It’s time to change the statistics, and it starts with holding businesses accountable and venture capitalists accountable to support women and women in business because nothing bad happens when women make more money.”
Steve White, president and special counsel at Comcast, shared advice from the other side of the coin — personal success, “As you envision and plan your career with the plan of reaching the c-suite you need to think about it in three phases….getting there; staying there; and ensuring the right people succeed you. This requires a very deliberate plan and approach for success”. He further pointed out a major reality of success, “Reaching the highest levels of success is never a straight line; the road to success is actually a crooked road; getting comfortable with uncertainty.”
In summary, I believe the great companies of the future will create equal opportunity where everyone can bring their authentic self to the table. And when we do that, true purpose emerges and we collectively help elevate business, the economy and society.