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A Day of Understanding and Learning

Across the United States more than half of public school students are members of traditional minority groups. In a “majority minority” nation, educational, social, political, and business leaders who want to be relevant must understand their personal experiences and resulting perspectives – whatever they may be – will likely not be shared by most of the people they seek to serve.

We are an increasingly diverse society, and developing an understanding of the potential obstacles and opportunities created by our vibrant, dynamic population is something we must work hard to achieve.

In November I met with 500 other CEOs from across the United States to discuss diversity and inclusion. Together, the organizations linked by “CEO Action” employ more than 12 million people; I was the only CEO from Iowa. Some of what we talked about were rules – the workplace expectations ranging from recruitment to retirement that establish common norms for uncommon workforces.

Unwritten rules also affect the way we see and engage with the world. We are each the products of our personal histories. Through our families, friends, schools, and communities we learned how the world works – or doesn’t – for each of us.

To increase equity we may tend to think about racial, gender, and similar issues in terms of an implicit checklist – what policies should be in employee handbooks, which holidays should be on the corporate calendar, and what D&I measures should be included in performance reviews.

We may think less often about the unintended messages our organizations, or each of us, send on an ongoing basis that can create obstacles others must navigate. For example:


  • Well-intended comments that create inadvertent perceptions of inequity or that unintentionally exclude team members 
  • Assumptions that prevent us from asking questions that, if answered, would help us better meet people’s wants and needs 
  • Overlooking less-obvious abilities and interests through which people could make meaningful contributions and feel valued at work 

How do we embrace inclusion and membership so that we eliminate social silos and any sense of “us” and “them”? If this question had an easy answer it would have been implemented long ago – which is why we continue to work toward solutions.

In that spirit, today hundreds of companies associated with “CEO Action” are hosting conversations on issues like these in a “Day of Understanding.” Here at ACT we are exploring unconscious bias, in recognition that overcoming biases requires understanding they exist and checking our impulses before we act.

To thrive as team members, each of us must be present in our whole selves in our work. To thrive as an organization, we must provide a welcoming environment for people with a wide range of personal characteristics, abilities, and enthusiasms.

Understanding is not only an obligation, it’s also an opportunity to learn about each other and ourselves. We won’t answer all of these challenging questions in a day, but each day – especially today – is another important chance to advance this essential work.

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About ACT

ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Headquartered in Iowa City, Iowa, ACT is trusted as a leader in college and career readiness, providing high-quality assessments grounded in nearly 60 years of research. ACT offers a uniquely integrated set of solutions designed to provide personalized insights that help individuals succeed from elementary school through career.

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