Mellody Hobson knows race is a major issue in America. As the Ariel Investments CEO discusses in the opening moments of a 2014 TED Talk that’s earned her lots of online praise, she’s still liable to be mistaken for kitchen help when entering a fancy New York City office building. And yet Hobson doesn’t long for the kind of “colorblind” world many people seek to create.
“We have to be color brave,” Hobson says. “We have to be willing, as teachers and parents and entrepreneurs and scientists, we have to be willing to have proactive conversations about race with honesty and understanding and courage, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do, because our businesses and our products and our science, our research, all of that will be better with greater diversity.”
During her TED Talk, Hobson credits her mother, a “ruthlessly realistic” woman who sometimes struggled to make ends meet, with instilling in her the idea that anything is possible if you work hard and meet challenges head on. That’s the idea behind her call for people to be “color brave” — as far as she’s concerned, we’ll only defeat racial discrimination if we engage in meaningful dialogue on the subject.
She’s not the only one who’s of this mindset. Hobson praises ESPN head John Skipper for mandating that diverse slates of candidates be considered for all job openings. Some at the company grumbled about the directive, asking whether he wanted them to hire a minority or the person best qualified for the job. Skipper refused to believe this was an either/or proposition, and that’s why Hobson says ESPN has proved to be such a successful organization. The key ingredient in their “secret sauce,” as she puts it, is diversity.
Of course, not everyone runs a major company or holds the power to change perceptions through hiring. But that shouldn’t matter, Hobson says. Everyone has the ability in his or her daily life to put color bravery into practice. That’s the real crux of her TED Talk.
“Invite people into your life who don’t look like you, don’t think like you, don’t act like you, don’t come from where you come from, and you might find that they will challenge your assumptions and make you grow as a person,” she says.