The intersection of innovation and inclusion with Bernard Coleman III

Last month, two local membership organizations, Public Relations Society of America (Dallas Chapter) and ColorComm Dallas, hosted one of Uber’s top executives in town for a special community event.

Bernard Coleman III, global head of diversity and inclusion (D&I), served as the keynote speaker for PRSA’s award-winning event, Drinks and Diversity Mixer. Coleman is based out of Uber’s San Francisco headquarters, so we thought his trek to the Big D was the perfect time to connect.

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Bernard Coleman III

Prior to his role at Uber, Coleman was named Chief Diversity Officer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. With a professional background that intermingles HR and diversity with politics and technology, Launch DFW wanted to learn more about his thoughts on the intersection of innovation and D&I and what companies, from startups to corporations, can do to make a difference.

All responses on from Coleman reflect his personal opinions.

What is the smartest thing a company can do when facing a crisis related to diversity?

They must acknowledge the elephant in the room. It’s a conversation that needs to be had. The conversation must be multifaceted. Focusing on one aspect of diversity at a time – race, gender, age – is less than useful. The conversation must be dynamic and a company can’t put all its eggs in one basket.

Having been involved in a political campaign and now being on the corporate side, what are your thoughts on the role that political leaders and private business have in ensuring diversity and inclusion exist in American business?

Politicians have a responsibility to put laws in place for equity. Even though the wheels of lawmaking take time, it’s their role to ensure they are put on the books, enacted, and enforced. Private corporations don’t have the constraints and limitations that government does. They can be the test kitchen and push the envelope on different policies. These organizations can advise on best practices as well as inform each other and get to a larger audience.

I think you have to state your position and be transparent about what you can or cannot do and deliver. As a leader, you must have a spine and lead with intention and not lip service. Be authentic and ignore naysayers. For example, when I was with the Clinton campaign, we put together a handbook that included resources to back up the language we used. We showed our good acts and it resonated.

Given the varying roles you’ve had in your career (corporate, human resources, politics) and now with your current position at Uber, what would you recommend to someone wanting to get involved in the D&I/equity space?

This role didn’t exist previously. In the past, the mandates of EEOC determined what had to be done within a company; now companies have to find the motivation. I think when you come through HR, you have a greater perspective. A psychology background has helped me understand motivation and my additional education at Georgetown helped too.

What role does D&I play in corporate and startup innovation?

Once you become a large company, you need to have multiple views. You don’t want to miss opportunities due to lack of perspectives. For example, with product development, if you’re lacking a diversity of perspectives, you may end up creating an item that offends or doesn’t work well for a section of your audience as opposed to something that resonates with everyone

For startups, it’s never too early to start considering the role of D&I. If you embed the importance in the DNA of your company, you won’t have to fight for its existence when you need it. With the Hillary campaign, everyone was aligned behind the candidate’s point of view because she made it clear from the beginning. There was zero pushback and it made it easier to set and achieve goals. It’s hard to retrofit that kind of progressivism.

Who are some people and the companies that are making strides in diversity and inclusion?

There are many I could name, but here are a few: 

Candice Morgan, Pinterest

Freada Kapor Klein, who is a partner at Kapor Capital. Candice Morgan, head of diversity and inclusion at Pinterest. I would also mention Rachel Williams at StubHub as well as my boss at Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi.

What three things would you recommend a company do or have to implement diversity and inclusion best practices?

I believe companies first need to have a willing coalition. The “33 and a third” rule applies to most companies: 33 and a third don’t care. They are focused on the work and not issues like diversity and inclusion. The second 33 and a third understand but don’t know what to do. The final 33 and a third have the attitude of “Let’s do this” when it comes to D&I. You have to have 66 percent.

Second and third are leadership support and a budget to make things happen.

What role did mentorship play for you in getting where you are?

I got bad advice or was told things I already knew. I learned to make mentors of my boss, my boss’ boss, and my coworkers. You have to open yourself up. I recommend getting with a mentor that is a member of your tribe, whatever your tribe is and one who isn’t.

Veleisa Burrell