American companies eschewing diversity in the boardroom risk “committing corporate suicide,” Starbucks Corp.’s Mellody Hobson said, about a month after taking over as board chair at the coffee giant.
“You can’t be a leading company in the world and not have a diverse board or have a real agenda around diversity without at some point dying as an organization,” Hobson said Wednesday evening at a virtual event sponsored by Bowdoin College. “Now it may take a while, but I do think it will be inevitable.“
Co-chief executive officer of Ariel Investments LLC, Hobson replaced outgoing Starbucks Chairman Myron Ullman on March 17. Her promotion comes as the top ranks of the biggest U.S. companies are still largely dominated by White men. The representation of people of color and women of all races in U.S. companies has come under increasing scrutiny this past year, especially following calls for social justice after the death of George Floyd in May 2020.
Hobson, who is Black, noted that White men made up about 70% of board seats in the U.S. but only 30% of the population in pre-2020 data. The event was part of the college’s series called “After the Insurrection: Conversations on Democracy.”
“It’s time for us to start acting and doing something. There’s so much lip service around diversity and inclusion,” she said at the moderated session. “We need less talk and more elbow grease on these issues.”
During a segment about Georgia’s voting-rights law, Hobson said that she was commenting as a citizen, not in any of her professional capacities. She was also asked about Starbucks’ relationships with its various stakeholders, from vendors and communities to customers and workers, whom it calls partners.
“At the end of the day, we think all of those considerations enhance shareholder value,” she said. “The customer experience matters but the partner experience matters as much. If you don’t have happy people working at your company, you will not have happy customers.”
A spokesman for Starbucks didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.