Why Hundreds of Leaders, Academics and Industry Experts Came Together To Support Racial Equity

Feb 8, 2024 4:05 PM ET

Originally published by Northwestern Mutual on October 27th, 2023

John Schlifske is the Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Northwestern Mutual

More than three years ago, I asked our company to think differently than the status quo and stand behind a commitment to racial equity amidst a charged media and social climate. This week, I stood in front of hundreds of business leaders, academics and industry experts with a new ask—for them to join Northwestern Mutual in the commitment to learn, connect and contribute to actionable plans to drive measurable change for both recipients and businesses as a way to reduce the racial wealth gap.

In partnership with Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, my alma mater and a highly recognized institution in research and studies related to social impact, Northwestern Mutual hosted its first-ever Gather Against the Gap event here in Milwaukee. Attendees explored ways that their respective organizations can commit to investing in a more diverse future and workforce and took one of many steps needed towards equity, which contributes to generational wealth and healthier, stronger communities. The conversations were candid, inspiring and progressive—far exceeding our hopes for the day. Here’s a few of the themes that rose to the top:

  1. Treat this as a business imperative and gains will be two-fold. 

    Ask questions, show vulnerability and carry through that commitment in a strategic and actionable business plan. Supporting change can enhance community vitality, while also having significant return for your business.

  2. Sustained action requires sustained leadership. 

    When leaders show up consistently for their impact initiatives, they create a multiplier effect within their organization.

  3. Challenge your thinking on the partners you align with.

    Remove any guardrails that may have unconsciously been placed on the types of organizations you think of when hearing “supplier diversity.” Broaden that definition to “business diversity” which includes technology, professional services and other fast-growing industries that can add value to your corporation.

  4. Have transparency and intentionality around tangible outcomes.

    When a consumer can understand how the dollars being invested are directly having an effect on their community or issues they align with, it leads to trust, understanding and a greater connection.

Closing thoughts 

Changes to our systemic environment do not happen overnight, or through one single meeting. However, every conversation leads to stronger roadmaps, action plans and implementations that lead to higher outcomes for communities and business, all in support of driving equality in racial wealth. Gather Against the Gap is one of many examples of how we can continue to keep momentum and hold each other accountable toward measurable change. I’m proud of Northwestern Mutual’s role in this effort and energized by what lies ahead.

Additional takeaways can be found in the full event report, available to download here.