CEO Forum: ‘Clearly & unequivocally stating that racism & intolerance have no place in our organizations has impact’

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
© Prostock-Studio / Getty Images

Related tags: diversity, Dietary supplements industry

“A diverse team is the best team, so don’t we want to create that for the industry as a whole to raise our game across the board?” asked an industry CEO last week.

2020 will be remembered for a lot of things, including the waves of protests in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake.

As stated by ABC News​, “From the corporate boardrooms to the arenas and stadiums of professional sports, Floyd's death caused a large-scale awakening to the wrongs protesters have been focused on for decades”​.

And this includes boardrooms and forums within the dietary supplements industry. Addressing these issue directly during the 2020 Dietary Supplements Regulatory Summit, Steven Tave, Director of the Office of Dietary Supplement Programs at the FDA, said: “We need to act, and to follow the example set by heroes like John Lewis.

“To say the words “Black Lives Matter” out loud, understanding that being unwilling to say them is a statement in itself. To try to begin to understand why it is so important to people of color – our colleagues, our friends, and our neighbors, along with people we don’t yet or may never know – to hear us say them. To try to begin to understand how we can be a better ally, and how we can each do our part to combat systemic racism and meaningfully support the noble goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion – ensuring that they are a lasting part of our culture, and not just buzzwords.”

“It’s important that our industry is a reflection of the consumers that we serve”

The topic was discussed during last week’s NutraIngredients-USA Business Leaders Forum ​ (Tuesday, January 26), which featured Sharon Leite, CEO, The Vitamin Shoppe; Courtney Nichols Gould, CEO, SmartyPants Vitamins; Jeff Boutelle, CEO, Pharmavite; and Jim Emme, CEO, NOW Health Group.

“I’m really passionate about this,” ​said Pharmavite’s Boutelle. “At Pharmavite, we’re focused on building an organization of equity and belonging for all. I think clearly and unequivocally stating that racism and intolerance has no place in our organizations has impact, as well as leaning into the tough conversations.

“But the starting point has to be, do you believe that a diverse team is a business imperative? I do. I’ve seen it time and again: Diverse teams are the most effective. And I’ve told our organization that we need to value and extract value out of diverse teams. It’s not a social experiment we’re doing, and it’s not political correctness: It’s the right thing. I think it’s important that our industry is a reflection of the consumers that we serve.”

Adding to Boutelle’s comments, The Vitamin Shoppe’s Leite said: “It’s up to us as leaders to lead this charge. Our consumer base is very broad and our industry should reflect the consumers and the communities we serve. It’s also important, the education we can provide our own teams, because it does start with each one of us.”

“I would say the industry had a wake-up call [in 2020],” ​said SmartyPants’ Nichols Gould, “and clearly we do that within our own four walls. It’s obvious when you walked around at the events and conferences, there was not a ton of diversity.

“But I think it’s phenomenal that everyone has acknowledged that it’s clearly an issue, and it’s one we need to take on. It affects all of us. Jeff’s point is the right one: A diverse team is the best team, so don’t we want to create that for the industry as a whole to raise our game across the board? I think that only happens if your conscious, you acknowledge it and say, yes, this is going on, and now it’s on us to work together to change that. That’s a good place to be: We own it and now we move forward with eyes open.”

Emme said NOW is making diversity an active part of the company’s succession planning. “Diversity is strength,” ​he said. “In the 53 years we’ve existed a s company, we’ve always based our success on diversity, as a family business, as we’ve grown and as we’ve hired. That said, you have to make a commitment to it. You have to be willing to have the conversations, whether they seem difficult or not, and you need to act on them. 

“As long as you make it a part of the strategic planning process, it’s not difficult to have it at all. They become habits. We’re committed that those habits will remain, and we’ll be a better company for it, as we build our leadership teams, and as we make diversity an active part of our succession planning going forward.”

Business Leaders Forum

The wide-ranging discussion covered other topics including innovation, supply chain to omega-3s, CBD, mandatory product registration, personalization, and more.

To view the forum on-demand, please click HERE​ (registration required).

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