Tim Ryan, chair of accounting giant PwC, tells a story about a conversation he had with one of his Black managers from New York, during which the man told him he feels safe at work, when he’s wearing his business suit and looking like the well-off executive he is.
But if he’s away from the office, wearing sweats and carrying a baseball bat to the park, he does not feel safe.
“In fact, he makes sure he always has his business card when he’s driving,” said Ryan. “He does that so that if he’s pulled over by police, he can assure them that he can afford the car he’s driving.”
Ryan told that story during his keynote address at the Dec. 18 African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania’s annual business luncheon at the Omni William Penn Hotel.
“I started calling all our clients, and even our competitors to get them to sign on to this CEO pledge. As of now, 370 of the Fortune 500 have signed on. And in every meeting I have with CEOs, I ask about their diversity and inclusion work—what worked well; what did you miss.”But that conversation might never have happened had Ryan not created the opportunity for it and countless others like it to take place. It started his first week as chair, the first week of July 2016—when Alton Sterling was fatally shot by two White police officers in Baton Rouge; a day later, Philando Castile by White officers during a St. Paul traffic stop, and a day after that, Black Army Reserve Afghan War veteran Micah Johnson ambushed a group of Dallas police officers, killing five and wounding nine others, as “payback.”
Chair of PwC
“I knew we had to do something, we had to find a way to talk about this, about race,” he said. “I got my team together sent out an email, and got thousands of responses thanking me for saying something—none of our employees could talk about it.”
Then on July 21, Ryan set up meetings in every office across the country where employees could talk about race. It was uncomfortable, scary, awkward, but ultimately successful. Things progressed, the firm began requiring unconscious bias training for all new employees and interns, and now requires it—and further training for anyone seeking a promotion.