Giuliani, Clinton & 7 Other White Guys: What's Wrong With This Picture?
By Linda Bean
© 2003 DiversityInc.com
October 14, 2003
"Two days in New York that will inspire you for years."
That's the promise behind the "World Business Forum -- Leadership Speaks," a mid-May symposium that aims -- according to a really well-done brochure -- to bring together "nine eminent leaders and thinkers speaking on topics of utmost importance to the business community."
Of course, all nine eminent leaders and thinkers are middle-aged, white guys -- a circumstance that produced within the Baloney Meter a feeling more akin to ire than inspiration. Even the Supreme Court bench -- another group of nine who consider themselves rather rigorous thinkers and leaders -- includes women and people of color.
The World Business Forum has an impressive line-up: former President Bill Clinton, author Jim Collins, former IBM Chairman Lou Gerstner Jr., former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Professors Philip Kotler, Michael Porter and Jeremy Siegel, former General Electric Chairman and CEO Jack Welch, and Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.
Impressive, but not inclusive, acknowledged a very nearly apologetic Penny Killebrew, spokesperson for conference organizer HSM Group.
"HSM is very concerned, about the lack of diversity in this particular conference. We would love to get a female speaker -- Condoleezza Rice would be wonderful," Killebrew says. "This is something, every day we are dealing with it ... seeing how we can add more diversity to our program."
Killebrew scores points for candor: HSM, an executive-education firm that targets CEOs and other top-level movers and shakers, was founded in Latin America and has done most of its work with leaders in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Spain.
The World Leadership Forum is its first U.S. venture and the firm clearly was unprepared for U.S. notions of diversity.
Baloney Meter, while quick to the phone, was behind four other callers who wanted to know whether the failure to include women and people of color was an oversight -- or something more ominous.
"We hope to organize one of these in Chicago in 2004," Killebrew added. "For that, we surely will have a more diverse group of individuals."
Killebrew and Carlo Rom, an HSM managing director, said the firm is seeking out additional speakers for the New York conference.
"We are in the process of extending offers to a number of others," Rom says, "but until we get a confirmation from them ..."
The nine-white-guy brochure is the first of several pieces of marketing material that will be mailed, Rom adds. "We have a marketing plan and part of that is getting people to sign up for the event."
The conference is sponsored by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ)-- where Publisher Karen House generally is considered a pretty powerful leader and thinker -- and the Fortune publishing group.
"We sponsor it as a package and the speakers were already selected," said WSJ spokesperson Robert Christie. "To answer your question -- 'did we have any hand in the selection of the speakers? -- the answer is 'no.'"
Zander, the conductor, kindly returned a call for comment.
"This is a non-problem," he said. "I don't think it really matters."
But what about the concept of invitation? What about choosing speakers and designing brochures that extend a clear welcome to women and people of color? What about looking beyond the traditional boundaries of leadership to embrace an astounding range of perspective, passion and insight?
"People should get over themselves. The white males should get over themselves. The females should get over themselves," Zander said.
In his presentation, he added, the emphasis is on "how all people will be brought together. That is the secret to my presentation. It is addressed to all humanity."
The conference, from his perspective, is an amazing illustration of the progression of social thought. Previous generations, he noted, turned to generals and soldiers for leadership.
"Now, they are bringing in the conductor of an orchestra ... and his job focuses on making all the voices heard," he said. "I feel as though I am representing a different kind of world and talking about a new style of leadership.
No women? No people of color?
It is with regret that the Baloney Meter states the obvious: There's nothing new about that.