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DALLAS -- The stakes are too high in business today not to go after the best talent, regardless of race or gender, and the lack of diversity in the workplace is a "generational thing" that over time will dissolve, said Jim Keyes, president and CEO of 7-Eleven Inc. to a group of mostly female executives yesterday at the annual Leadership Summit of the Network of Executive Women (NEW).
"I know things aren't perfect yet, but we are light years ahead of the rest of the world and we've come a long way from just a generation ago," he said. "Discrimination stems from ignorance, but I do believe more and more companies are doing a better job."
The second annual NEW Leadership Summit was hosted at 7-Eleven corporate headquarters. The mission of NEW is to attract, retail and advance women in the retail consumer products industry through education, leadership, networking and business development.
Without question, there are still obstacles men set up in the workplace, "some of which are real, and others imagined," he said. Identifying discrimination is difficult and complicated by corporate politics, which is encountered at any organization. "It's important to properly diagnose the problem," Keyes said. "Because sometimes when you are on the receiving end of political Bologna, it sometimes feels like discrimination, but it may not be."
Keyes relayed a story about a period in his own career at 7-Eleven when he felt stymied and precluded from being promoted. When he later shared his thoughts and frustrations with his wife, she told him that if she did not know better she would say that he was being discriminated against. "I ended up not making that diagnosis of the situation. It was corporate politics at play, not discrimination. I decided to stay, persist and work hard. I decided to stay because I was still learning and growing. Even if I didn't end up getting that promotion, I knew I would have a lot of knowledge to take with me to what ever opportunity came next."
Winning organizations are teaching organizations, he said. "Successful organizations have proven leaders who are both teachers and avid learners themselves."
According to Keyes, the business world is starving for people with confidence that are not afraid to take personal risks, express ideas and a point of view, and who ultimately have the courage to make decisions. "So few leaders do this. Too many CEOs get to the top and retrench and focus on how they can stay there instead of moving the business forward."
There are three principals of leadership Keyes espouses:
* Embrace change: "If you are not open to change your point of view will become stale and irrelevant."
* Be confident" "If you are not confident, you will not have a point of view or, at the very least, you will be unwilling to state it."
* Keep it simple: "If you are not able to simplify your point of view, no one will understand it."
Organizations and leaders must build a culture of success. "No one will give you success," he said. "You have to take the initiative to learn, stretch and grow."