JCPenney Honors Black History Month with Mellody Hobson and Dr. Michael Sorrell

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JCPenney celebrated Black History Month with a series of events throughout the month of February under the theme “Act to Impact: Driving Action from Intent,” hosted by MOSAIC, the Company’s African-American Business Resource Team (BRT). MOSAIC is one of eight BRTs that bring thought leaders from every walk of life together in order to advance the Company’s cultural and social understanding.

The Company’s Black History Month events included an engaging talk at the JCPenney Home Office with notable guests, Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Capital Management, one of the largest African American-owned money management and mutual fund companies in the U.S., and Dr. Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, the first work college in the country to be certified as a Minority Serving Institution (MSI). Dr. Sorrell led a powerful and candid discussion with Hobson on the importance of diversity, in which she shared her personal insights and career advice.

Hobson explained that the keys to her success in the business world has been her focus on excellence, being prepared, her willingness to outwork her peers and her ability to make herself indispensable, sharing her favorite quote “Be the labor great or small. Do it well or not at all.” In her discussion of diversity, Hobson touched on her popular TED Talk, encouraging the audience to be color brave, rather than color blind.

Throughout her career, Hobson found that corporate leaders would often tell her they were color blind, yet whites represented the majority of their executive and board positions. Upon making any business or organizational decisions, she learned to ask, “Is everyone in the room?” Her point to the audience is that data continues to show that hard problems can be solved faster when there are diverse points of view, enabling us to think broadly and more thoughtfully. Hobson acknowledged that having conversations about race can be uncomfortable however “everyone has a personal responsibility to have those tough conversations to help us move forward.”

At JCPenney, inclusion and diversity is the foundation of the Company’s culture, the spirit that fosters an environment of collaboration and respect, and the driving force that inspires workplace innovation. Today, more than half of the JCPenney associate population are minorities, of which 35 percent are African-American. This progression is positively represented at all levels within the Company, including the executive team and the retailer’s board, of which 25 percent are African-American – well above the 9 percent reflected on Fortune 500 boards nationally.

The Company’s Chairman and CEO Marvin R. Ellison serves as only one of three African-American CEOs of a Fortune 500 company. Ellison, as well as Jeff Davis, the Company’s chief financial officer, were both recently recognized as one of the “Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America” by Black Enterprise.

In her conversation with Dr. Sorrell, Hobson reminded the audience that small things can add up to something great, noting that we all have a role in advancing inclusion and diversity efforts. “I don’t want to admire problems, I want to offer a solution,” she stated.