Black History Month honors the achievements of black Americans, and pays tribute to their considerable contributions throughout history in building, shaping and strengthening our country.
This year, as I listen to the tone and tenor of rhetoric on the national stage, Black History Month has felt especially meaningful as a reminder of the value of diversity and the importance of inclusion. No matter which side of the public discourse one may fall, it is hard to imagine that anything productive can be achieved in an environment of growing division. I have never seen a problem effectively solved by shouting over one another, or by intimidating or silencing less powerful voices.
As an immigrant, a minority, and a CEO, this has personal relevance for me. I believe that now, more than ever, diversity and inclusion can enhance our capability for innovation, enable us to have a more informed viewpoint on global issues, and help create strong communities that are rich in traditions and shared learning. And perhaps most importantly, they can provide us the perspectives and resources to tackle issues that are critical to our future and our competitiveness.
As an example, in the networking industry, my peers and I are struggling to solve some pretty significant technological challenges: How do we build a digital infrastructure that can support exponential rates of change? How do we ensure that everyone has equal quality of access to the Internet and all of the advantages it brings? How do we safeguard our assets, systems and personal information, and balance privacy with national security?
These are extraordinarily complex issues that cannot be solved without having a variety of perspectives at the table. Within my workforce, I want problem-solvers with grey hair, purple hair, and everything in between. I want people who can think independently and then act collaboratively. I want people with a strong work ethic who treat their colleagues with dignity and respect, regardless of gender, race, nationality, religious preference, sexual preference, or bathroom preference.
In the technology industry, we don’t have enough diversity and we struggle with that every day. We know that the products and systems we build are only as smart as the people who contribute to their intelligence, making diversity of thought essential to achieving solutions that work for the masses. We also know that our own diversity enables us to better understand and serve the needs of a diverse set of customers worldwide.
Therefore, as a tech-industry CEO, I am especially troubled by the rhetoric surrounding national travel and immigration policies that would alienate large blocks of workers and weaken U.S.-based companies on the global market.
Not only would these policies unfairly restrict access of our employees to their families in certain parts of the world, they would affect our competitiveness by limiting the diverse talent pool from which we can draw. They would also hinder our ability to fully serve customers in specific countries, and deny certain customers access to training and site visits. My company is a global company with a global workforce and a global customer base. We best serve all our stakeholders by being inclusive and diverse in every way we can. And let’s not forget that we compete against global companies that do not have to operate under the same types of constraints that these policies would impose.
Beyond business concerns, the current tone of divisiveness and exclusivity affects our nation’s ability to tackle other major challenges. Immigration, healthcare and national security are lightening rod issues today, but hunger, education, the environment, economic inequality and a crumbling national infrastructure (both physical and digital) are no less pressing.
These are serious issues for which only rational, inclusive discourse can yield effective solutions. We cannot afford to marginalize or limit the diversity of thought and experience that makes up our national character.
Our success in addressing these challenges and expanding our global competitiveness requires that we resist the temptation to blame, and that, rather than yielding to fear, we seek greater understanding to overcome it.
We are a wealth of varied experiences, perspectives and expertise. We have the wisdom of history at our immediate disposal. We are empowered by great imagination and creativity, and we have the freedom to try and fail and try again. That is what makes us great. And that is what we should be embracing today.
Black History Month, for me, underscores this point. It is a reminder of how far we have come as a nation in tackling challenges that once seemed insurmountable. It is a celebration of those whose achievements have shaped, and continue to shape, the world we live in. It is my personal inspiration to continue to do better, to be better, and to have a hand in providing the next generation of Americans – many of whom will be immigrants and minorities, like me – with a future that reflects the very best of our aspirations.