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Mellody Hobson thinks too many all-white, all-male companies are committing “corporate suicide”

Hobson is one of the most prominent black women in finance, and she’s not happy with how her industry is doing.

Mellody Hobson speaking from behind a podium.
Mellody Hobson.
Dave Kotinsky / Getty Images for NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc.

Mellody Hobson is one of the most prominent black women in finance. And she’s had it with the rest of the business world feeling all-white and all-male.

It’s suicide. Corporate suicide.

“I live in the investment world, where I am a unicorn just by virtue of being a black woman,” Hobson said at the Upfront Summit outside Los Angeles on Wednesday. “What I go out and see every single day is a lot of corporate suicide.”

Hobson is a longtime proponent of the argument that companies are doomed to fail if they don’t bring in diverse people to the decision-making table. That’s an argument that has been made by activists pushing to diversify Silicon Valley venture capital firms, although both Hobson and the program’s moderator noted that they were speaking before a largely white, largely male venture-capital audience: “I say this with respect — this group is an example.”

There’s a good amount of research showing that companies that are more diverse tend to fare better. But that insight has not yet taken hold in the tech industry — look at Amazon, for example, to find a very white, very male leadership structure.

Hobson helps run the mutual fund giant Ariel Investments and has served in senior roles with JPMorgan Chase, Starbucks, and DreamWorks. She has become something of a celebrity, too, with her marriage to movie director George Lucas and profiles about her in Vanity Fair.

But despite her loud megaphone in the conversation about diversity, Hobson still feels that too many boards are cutting their leadership team too much slack on diversity initiatives.

“The business world is the only world where the one thing they will say, ‘We’re working on,’ is diversity,” she said. “You don’t make earnings? The CEO doesn’t have a job. The product doesn’t come out on time? The person doesn’t have a job. The manufacturing schedule gets off? You lose part of your bonus.

“But on diversity, it’s like. ‘We’re trying. We just need more time. We have the right intent.’”

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