The Courage to Collide

Aaron Walton ’83 wants to shift the approach to diversity in the workplace, and he’s starting with his own company.

Companies that are more gender-diverse are 15 percent more likely to outperform their competitors, according to a McKinsey & Company study. Statistics for ethnically diverse companies are even more striking, as they are 35 percent more likely to outperform peers.

“We’re living in this era of intersections,” Walton said. “When you surround yourself with people who aren’t like you, the IQ of the group becomes stronger and bigger.”

Be Yourself, and Worry About Nothing Else

Walton is leading disruption as CEO of marketing and advertising firm Walton Isaacson. Since founding the company in 2005, Walton has built a team of employees from all backgrounds.

“We believe fundamentally, that the world is made stronger and more powerful through the lens of diversity,” he said. “We were very purposeful in the types of people we were hiring . . . we genuinely believed, if we had diverse views around the table, we would ultimately get new ways of thinking.”

Walton asks all of his employees to be themselves, which he says leads to higher productivity and more opportunities for innovation.

“The second that they stop worrying about any of the things that make them feel like they can’t be themselves, they take all of that energy and start focusing in on the things that we need to help make our clients’ businesses go forward,” Walton said.

Walton, who was the College’s first black Student Government Association president, traces his inspiration back to the endeavors of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, known for introducing Martin Luther King Jr. to Mahatma Gandhi and helping King understand passive resistance.

Rustin was also responsible for orchestrating the March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech.

“I wanted to be that guy that helped move things forward,” Walton said, “challenging the status quo in a way that was a little bit disruptive, but respectful.”

A Different Sense of Workplace Diversity

In building his company, Walton has remained true to what he has learned in Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why.

“One of the things he talks about: in companies that are successful, everyone from the CEO down to the receptionist understood exactly why they were there,” Walton said. “They understood their purpose, their mission.”

He also challenged the audience to stop thinking about diversity and inclusion in a traditional sense.

“We have to have the courage and collide, to go out and try something that we’ve never done before,” he said.

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