I picked up Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink at a garage sale yesterday, and was enthralled at some of the data he has gathered about the way our brains work. Gladwell at some point polled half of the companies on the Fortune 500 to find out (not surprisingly) that the majority of CEOs are white men.
He also found out that a majority of them are TALL. In the U.S. population, 14.5 percent of men are six feet or taller. Among CEOs at the Fortune 500, 58 percent are six feet tall or taller. Even more striking, said Gladwell, is the fact that in the general population, just 3.9 percent of adult men are six foot two or taller. Among the CEO sample, nearly a third were six foot two or taller.
Today, sustainability feels like a short CEO in the boardroom – the same unconscious bias in attitude that causes us to favor tall white guys causes us to also lean toward strong economic growth, rather than sustainable development, as our overwhelming indicator of the ‘right’ road.
Can we change? Well, it is hard to change unconcious attitudes, as we aren’t, well, conscious of them. But Gladwell posits that positive associations with new ideas can really help. You must be exposed to the new on a regular basis.
So that’s why more CEOs – the short, the tall, female, male, black, white, and brown – need to ride bikes. And compost, put solar panels on their roofs. Grow their own greens. Get out of the corporate limo and walk. Practice and get exposed to what sustainability preaches.
In a recent Price Waterhouse Cooper study of 1,200 CEOs, five challenges emerged that corporate executives were most concerned with.
The top challenge was “how to tap into growing customer sentiment about environmental and corporate responsibility?”
And the answer is, Try some on for size. Most of us, CEOs included, have grown up in a world that reinforces an unconscious bias, I would wager, against some of the practices that could be deemed sustainable. To really “tap into customer sentiment” it takes one (green consumer) to know one. We all need more exposure to sustainable practices. Like riding a bike, some of them might even turn out to be fun.