Best Buy, Lyft, and Adobe are hiring more execs from marginalized backgrounds thanks in part to this woman

Best Buy, Lyft, and Adobe are hiring more execs from marginalized backgrounds thanks in part to this woman
Cathrin Stickney
Cathrin Stickney, the CEO of, has gotten over 600 companies to sign on to her pledges promoting gender and racial diversity.Crystal Cox
  • CEO Cathrin Stickney is helping to change the face of America's corporate leadership.

  • She created public pledges on race and gender for leaders to advance diversity in leadership.

  • Over 600 CEOs of companies have signed on and are working with her.

  • Visit Insider's Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

"We don't hire women."

With those four words, Cathrin Stickney's career plans to work at a top architecture firm were smashed into a thousand pieces.

It was the late 1970s, and gender discrimination was categorically illegal in the US. Yet the male executive sitting across from her looked at her without hesitation and repeated his prejudiced reasoning.

After that, Stickney pivoted to a successful career in healthcare, but the damning feeling from the words the executive told her never subsided. In 2017, after attending the Women's March in Washington, DC, she cofounded, the nonprofit behind the Parity Pledge.

The idea is simple: Get CEOs of major companies to sign a pledge to interview at least one woman for every executive position. To date, nearly 600 companies including Ralph Lauren, Lyft, Best Buy, Adobe, Oracle, and Cisco have signed on.

While Stickney said she always envisioned women of color being part of the pledge, the country's racial reckoning of 2020 inspired her to do more. Days after George Floyd's murder, Stickney published an additional pledge for CEOs, one in which they interview at least one person of color for every position at the vice-presidential level and above. Companies that have signed on include Capri Holdings (the owner of Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo, and Versace), AmerisourceBergen, Momentive, Overstock, and Ancestry.

"I think company leaders finally get it," Stickney said. "They are more intentional than ever because they see the results they can bring — greater employee and customer loyalty, more innovation, and for many companies, better financial performance."

That said, there's still a long way to go. White men currently comprise about 85% of executive positions at large and mid-sized companies–but what we want is representation that mirrors the population, which would be ~50% women and ~40% people of color. Nevertheless, change is happening, and I'm encouraged.

Discrimination in corporate America isn't as obvious as it was for Stickney in the '70s, but it persists. The most recent data showed that women represented just 15% of Fortune 500 leaders; you can count the number of Black Fortune 500 CEOs on one hand. Stickney is committed to changing that through her Parity Pledges on race and gender. Signing the pledges is low stakes. There are no deadlines or quotas, and that's been key to Stickney's success, she said.

"The magic is in the public commitment. Our success is fueled by a top-down approach. There must be buy-in from the CEO, a member of the C-Suite, or the board to spearhead change," Stickney told Insider. "We can already see progress in real time."

Changing the face of America's C-suites

The results of's work have been significant. Eighty percent of companies that signed the pledge reported adding and retaining at least one woman to their executive team, and 46% of companies added at least one woman to each of their board of directors.

And 65% of companies who signed the Parity Pledge to interview more people of color updated their recruiting practices to be more inclusive. Some established connections with historically Black colleges and universities, and others used more inclusive language in job descriptions. And 71% said they had been more intentional about interviewing people of color for open roles.

Josh James, the CEO of cloud-software company Domo, is a cofounder of and a signatory of's gender pledge in 2017 and its race pledge in 2020. Since 2017, Domo went from having no women or people of color on its board to having 57% of its board hailing from underrepresented backgrounds.

Mark Irvin, Best Buy's chief inclusion, diversity, and talent officer, said signing both pledges had helped the company hold itself accountable to diversity goals. (Best Buy has a female CEO, and 50% of the company's board members are women.)

"Through pledges like this, we believe we can build a strong and vibrant company that takes action to make a positive impact for our communities," he told Insider.

Signing the gender and race pledges does not hold CEOs accountable to a specific goal or target date. Stickney said this made CEOs much more willing to participate because they could set their own goals and rate of progress.

"Imposing a one-size-fits-all deadline or quota would just lead to failure on the part of many companies," Stickney said. "When the goal is easy to achieve and the timetable is their own, companies tend to not just make a public commitment — they hold themselves accountable, embrace it, and go even further, faster."

The future of Stickney's mission

Beyond getting CEOs to sign's pledges, Stickney and her teamwork with companies to conduct research into their retention and hiring practices of underrepresented workers. Now, the nonprofit is expanding to conduct pay-equity analyses based on race, gender, and age.

"We get executives to see where they benchmark against their industry peers. And if you can see where you are, it makes you want to climb higher," she said.

None of this information is made publicly available, but executives at participating companies can see how they stack up against their peers. Stickney said would be publishing aggregated data in the future.

"CEOs are working with us because there is a desire to be more successful, create an inclusive culture of respect for each other, and ensure the workplace is a setting where opportunity for all abounds," she said. "I'm feeling hopeful for the future of corporate America."

This article was originally published in December 2021. 

Read the original article on Business Insider