Closing The Gap

Why Verizon's CEO is banking on diversity—and asking men to help

Lowell McAdam
Cameron Costa | CNBC
Lowell McAdam

Verizon's CEO Lowell McAdam is focused on growing the diversity in his ranks, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because he believes it's key to the company's success.

"You're not going to win a complex environment that we are in if you don't have diversity of thought, diversity of opinion, diversity of experience — and that comes by bringing people of color and women to higher levels of the business," said McAdam at a conference for Makers, the Verizon-owned feminist media brand focused on telling stories about women.

Though the focus on creating more diverse management teams has intensified significantly of late, McAdam says these issues have been on the company's radar for at least a decade. And he says he's public about maintaining a zero-tolerance policy on any sort of harassment: "If you cross the line like that and disrespect a person of color or a woman, you're out of the business, there's no debate about it."

Verizon is investing in ways to bring women more to higher levels within the organization. Thusfar, the company says it has achieved 59 percent workforce diversity and that six members of its 12-person board are women or people of color. The company also employs more than 11,000 members of the military and veterans and is committed to working with diverse suppliers.

Verizon is a founding partner, along with Cornell Tech and the City University of New York, of a tech education initiative targeting women undergraduates and graduate students to help grow the number of women working in technology.

To help grow the exposure of kids in K-12 schools to STEM, Verizon's Innovative Learning initiative brings free technology education and hands-on learning with the likes of Virtual Reality, to kids in underserved communities.

"We're trying to create that wave of women moving up in the organization so that someday they will be the CEO," says McAdam.

And change won't happen, McAdam says, without men being involved.

"A lot of men are afraid to do the wrong thing unintentionally and create some sort of backlash."

That's why, McAdam says, the company is encouraging men to become mentors and providing training to ensure they mentor more now, not less.

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