BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : AUGUST 9, 1999 ISSUE
COVER STORY

Lloyd Ward on 'Diversity as a Business Agenda'


When Procter & Gamble hired Lloyd Ward directly out of college in 1970, the company considered him part of its "qualifiable" program -- an early version of affirmative action. Ward felt marginalized by the notion that no African American could be qualified, but he later served as P&G's head of affirmative action. On the verge of becoming the next CEO of Maytag Corp., Ward brings an unusually intimate perspective to one of society's most controversial issues. He recently discussed the problems minorities face in Corporate America with BW Chicago Correspondent David Leonhardt. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: How can society's gaps be closed?
A: The oppresssed have to prepare themselves, lift themselves up, overcome the prejudices of society: Knock on the door, pull on the handle, and, if you have to, dismantle the hinge. But I also believe it is still the case today that there are many who are systematically excluded from the mainstream of economic enterprise.

Q: What can Corporate America to do include more people in the "mainstream of economic enterprise"?
A: You have to start with a positive outlook on human nature. Being a minority, I don't have to deal with some of the conflicts others have to deal with. I grew up with a father and mother who I thought were the most talented, gifted, wonderful people in the world, and I saw in many situations how they were discounted and viewed to be less than [equal] simply because of the color of their skin. So I start with the view of human nature that people want to make a difference, they want to add value, they want to get better, and what they need is an opportunity.

I operate out of the 90% rule. The fact of the matter is there are some poeple out there who will violate those assumptions. But you go where the energy is, where the 90% is. You don't develop a philosphy of leading, of managing, of interacting, based on the 10%.

Q: You came into the "qualifiable" program at P&G and had some mixed feelings about that. What's your feeling about the current state of affirmative action?
A: It is working, and it can be improved. It has to be redefined. Let's face it: If it were not for the so-called affirmative action of the '60s and '70s, people like me and a whole bunch of other folks you can point to may not have ever gotten the opportunity to provide the leadership that we have been able to provide. And there were many African Americans who preceded me who were duly qualified for broader responsibilities in Corporate America and never got in the door.

I will tell you that affirmative action takes its toll. It takes its toll on how you are viewed. It takes it toll on members of the majority culture thinking that somehow people who are minorites get preferential treament.

Q: So how can we get the benefits of affirmative action while lessening the toll it takes?
A: I don't think it is about affirmative action anymore. It is about understanding and leveraging the value of differences. It isn't affirmative action as in quota. It is diversity as in success. The challenge we're faced with is recreating your business model -- because the competitive situation around us is changing more rapidly than we've ever seen in our history. What is required to be successful going forward is an understanding of each other beyond what we are able to get out of a homogenous perspective. You have to have an integrated, heterogeneous potpourri of ideas and thinking and backgrounds. That means diversity as a business agenda.



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