A terrifying thought occurred to me about halfway through day one of the Bloomberg Equality Summit, an annual gathering of corporate executives, DEI officers, and the actor who played Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma to discuss KPIs regarding CSR and ESG across a variety of GLs. (Translation: Diversity, equity, and inclusion; key performance indicators; corporate social responsibility; environment, social, and governance; global landscapes.) I realized I would rather be watching the Senate Judiciary Committee consider the Supreme Court nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson. If I had to subject myself to a mindless marathon of performative righteousness, I'd prefer the one with fewer Ivy League buzzwords and heaping piles of corporate bullshit. Say what you will about Congress, at least it's not (overtly) sponsored by a woke hedge fund (TPG) specializing in leveraged buyouts.
Nevertheless, I persisted through nine hours and eight minutes of panel discussions and interviews about how "intentionality" is a "core dynamic" of a "deeply matrixed approach" to "driving inclusive change" and "decolonizing thinking" as we endeavor to "widen the aperture" of accountable leadership and "reimagine consumer base experiences" in the digital age. The discourse was nonsensical at times, deranged and terrifying at others. The phrase, "As goes California, goes the nation... You cannot hide from this," stuck out as particularly chilling. The summit was officially titled, "Measuring the Movement: Accountability in Action." Though I think the following phrase, as it appears in the official transcript, provides a more accurate summary: "Advancing equity and inclusion in a deep turd World."
Perhaps I was just bitter about not being able to partake in the remarkable networking opportunities. Day one of the two-day event was an in-person gathering in New York City and included a mid-morning "networking break," lunch in the "networking lounge," and climaxed with a "networking and cocktails" happy hour. I had been looking forward to representing the Washington Free Beacon, a woman-led small business intent on disrupting the alternative media space, and discussing strategies for driving inclusive equity among my peers in the industry. Alas, the host was "unable to approve" my application to attend "due to limited space." In what may or may not be a related incident, my email inquiry about why the Bloomberg summit was promoting "equality" as opposed to "equity"—the preferred term among Democratic politicians and other social justice activists—went unanswered.
Having been relegated to the lowly status of virtual attendee, my networking opportunities were limited to the online chat forum, where other virtual guests, including one very active poster named "Karen," were plugging their LinkedIn profiles and constantly thanking the summit participants for making "OUTSTANDING points!!!" I watched along in the company of some of the industry's leading experts, including a DEI and ESG adviser for Labiana Pharmaceuticals, the Manager of Global STEM Outreach, DEI and CSR Initiatives for Hitachi High-Tech in America, as well as the founder and CEO of Black Women in Artificial Intelligence.
What I learned at the Bloomberg Equality Summit
So, what did I learn? The answer is: Not much, beyond a renewed appreciation of my capacity for self-flagellation. Does confirming a preexisting suspicion—that the woke corporate obsession with DEI and ESG is little more than a performative racket—count as learning something? Education wasn't really the point. This was an exercise in self-justification, a religious celebration—for the true believers, but also, assuredly, for the grifters and false prophets phoning it in for a paycheck. I'll do my best to present what I found to be the most compelling insights, so to speak.
The summit's first panel was titled, "Boosting Representation on Broadway." I learned that Bryan Terrell Clark, the actor and producer who opened the summit with a "soulful rendition" of Stephen Sondheim's "No One Is Alone," was the first black male to play the lead in a commercial for Humira, an injectable tumor necrosis factor blocker used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, and other inflammatory ailments. "It's crazy because it scored the highest and became the gold standard for years," Clark boasted. He also discussed his work with the Theater Equitable Employment Marketplace (TEEM), a nonprofit dedicated to increasing diversity in behind-the-scenes roles on Broadway, but lamented that "it really is an uphill battle because the unions are strong."
Clark acknowledged, given the venue and the audience, he was "preaching to the choir." For example, everyone in attendance was well aware that "this work requires a lot of self-care." He went on to make a compelling case for why corporations should hire him to talk about DEI issues with their employees. "I'm a content creator. I'm a speaker," Clark said. "Sometimes you don't want to hear this kind of sterile, view of [diversity, equity, and inclusion] work, right? But I'll come and rap some Hamilton to you and then we can get into the conversation, right? So I think that it's important to even diversify the conversation around diversity and inclusion." Speaking of Hamilton, the hit show's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, was referenced several times by panel participants. They neglected to denounce his white supremacy, however.
Throughout the summit, almost every discussion began with a version of the following statement from Bloomberg economics editor Michael McKee during his interview with Mary Daly, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. "News being what it is, I want to hold off just a second, beg your indulgence for a few minutes before we delve deeply into diversity, and ask a few questions about things like inflation and war that are going on [that] actually interest a lot of people," McKee said, making an obvious point, albeit inadvertently, about how "lack of diversity in corporate boardrooms" would rank among the average American's list of concerns.
On a related note, former Atlanta mayor and aspiring presidential candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms made an appearance to discuss the alleged "massive voter suppression laws" in Georgia and chastise Americans for not realizing how great their lives are under President Joe Biden. "We're still recovering as a country. So you have people going, 'Well, what was that all about? Because I don't feel like my life is any better.' I don't necessarily agree with that, but I know that's the sentiment," she said. "It goes back to messaging and making sure that people understand what's being done on their behalf."
Saying the quiet part out loud
There were several examples of what extremely online liberals might describe as "saying the quiet part out loud" when it comes to corporate America's relationship with the DEI industrial complex. For example, Bloomberg technology reporter Kurt Wagner's interview with Roy L. Austin Jr., vice president of civil rights and deputy general counsel at Meta (the company formally known as Facebook), was an extended discussion about the importance of his job title, which was created following a company-wide civil rights audit. "Obviously I'm a big fan of the audit, I have a new job," said the highly compensated corporate executive. "People are recognizing this role is an important role."
Why, exactly? Austin, who served eight years in the Obama administration, struggled to explain what he actually does at Meta. "We are definitely building this plane as we're flying it," he said, citing his efforts to create a "civil rights training" to educate Meta employees on "what it means to ensure that you are protecting people from marginalized communities." A "very sophisticated" "race measurement tool" is also in the works, Austin said, which will facilitate the company's efforts to "do the research and [find] the data to determine what that problem is." To figure out what is going on, in other words.
Marcus Shaw, CEO of AltFinance, suggested corporations and investment firms should embrace "greed" as a motivating factor in their efforts to partner with the DEI industry. Few participants at the Bloomberg Equality Summit, sponsored by Boston Consulting Group, Syndio, and TPG, the leveraged buyout firm, appeared to have any reservations about doing so. TPG partner and CEO Jon Winkelried, a white guy, chatted with Bloomberg Media CEO M. Scott Havens, a white guy, during a virtual panel titled, "Solution Sessions: Culture as Strategy, Presented by TPG." Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri, TPG partner and chief human resources officer, also participated.
TPG has plenty of reasons to take part in the summit, nearly all of them involving greed, as well as the (greed-motivated) desire to bolster its reputation as a pioneer in the woke hedge fund sector. TPG fired one of its managing partners, Bill McGlashan, in 2019 after he became embroiled in the "Varsity Blues" college admissions bribery scandal. McGlashan was ultimately convicted of paying $50,000 to rig his son's entrance exams scores.
TPG became a publicly traded company in January and, according to the New York Times, has been working to "convince investors that it can compete" with its (much larger) rivals in the industry. The firm aims to attract investment from woke institutions—university endowments, as well as pension funds run by blue states and liberal countries such as Canada and Sweden—many of which have already invested in its Rise Fund, a multibillion-dollar "social impact" fund developed by McGlashan in partnership with Bono and Jeff Skoll, the eBay billionaire and executive producer of left-wing propaganda films, including An Inconvenient Truth, Promised Land, and Citizenfour.
Fittingly enough, the TPG-sponsored panel at the TPG-sponsored summit was followed by an interview with Norway's minister of culture and equality, Anette Trettebergstuen, who explained how her country's sovereign wealth fund (the world's largest) screens potential investments using "guidelines" based on "gender equality and sustainable development."
David Rubenstein, cofounder and co-chairman of the Carlyle Group, also had reason to appear on a panel titled, "Creating an Inclusive Path on Wall Street." His firm's reputation among woke elites has presumably suffered from its association with former co-CEO Glenn Youngkin, the current Republican governor of Virginia. Rubenstein suggested that if Wall Street firms want "to have less regulation, and have [fewer] people from Washington telling them what to do," they should get with the program and embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion. Rubenstein went on to acknowledge that more and more people are starting to "recognize that people who are different, who are diverse, who might be minorities, actually have some incredibly good capabilities." Rubenstein had some other interesting thoughts on race and racism that deserve to be quoted at length:
Other highlights from the Bloomberg Equality Summit include:
• Jarvis Sam, vice president of global diversity and inclusion for Nike, speaking in front of a framed LeBron James jersey, discussing how the company is assessing "how we operationalize the work of understanding the work that's happening in various regions around the world," including China, and making sure it is "aligned to how we're thinking in other [global landscapes]."
• Havens, the Bloomberg Media CEO, saying: "With our journalism, we're constantly holding those with power accountable." (Fact check: LOL.)
• Macy's CEO Jeff Gennette's (possible) Freudian slip about how his company is "improving the quality of life for the women and men who live in our fact—or who are working in the factories that produce all of our private brands."
• Coca-Cola being called out in a Bloomberg data analysis for having "lost ground" when it comes to employing minorities in professional roles: "While 18.8 percent of Coke's professional workers are black, it does reflect a decline from 21.2 percent in 2018." (Of note: The United States of America is 13.4 percent black.)
• Visa CEO Al Kelly's concern that diversity efforts suffer when employees don't come into the office: "I really am worried about [diversity and inclusion going backward]. Minorities will tend, because they're the minorities, tend to be a bit shyer than the mainstream. And it's easier for them and the majority to break through when you're in person, right? I can see a minority and go over to their desk and say, 'How you doing?,' you know, even coming back or going to the men's room, which is something I would commonly do."
• The word "Latinx" was used often, except during the panel on "Latino Representation on Corporate Boards and Beyond."
• Gabrielle Novacek, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group, discussing the "emotional needs" of millennial employees.
• The panel on "Talking Openly About Menopause in the Workplace," during which participants discussed the "massive role" for government when it comes to addressing menopause in the workplace, including by making it a "protected characteristic."
Deep Thoughts with KJ Sidberry, Harvard grad and principal, Forerunner Ventures
After watching his appearance on the "Venture Capital: Investing in Change" panel and listening to Sidberry explain what his firm does, I still have no idea. He said Forerunner is focused on backing companies "that are working or aiming to rescript culture [and] reimagine consumer base experiences, particularly for this, I guess, contemporary, novel, digital-age consumer." What?
"It's an acknowledgment that the fabric of America looks a lot different now than it has historically," Sidberry explained. "And so when you take that into context and you work to effectively translate the notion of identity—who you are, what you do, how you kind of fit within a broader context or community—translate that notion into needs." Your guess is as good as mine.
"Those needs kind of surface different opportunities as it relates to businesses, both from an employee perspective but also from a customer perspective," he went on. "And so what we try to look into—what we try to lean in to—is understanding those needs states, identifying those, and then match those with opportunities that work to satisfy those needs states in ways that ultimately feel empowering or enriching. And so we back founders that are looking to champion that very notion—that ideal—because the expectations as it relates to one's identity in the ways that people need to show up in context for—that has elevated to a pretty meaningful degree. And that creates alpha, that creates opportunity across a whole host of different dimensions."
Maybe it's the sort of thing that only makes sense to smart people who went to Harvard. For what it's worth, Sidberry's response to the panel moderator's final question—about what venture capital executives can do to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry—is by far the most accurate summation of what I learned at the Bloomberg Equality Summit: