Dallas Mavericks CEO on diversity and inclusion: 'We have achieved success, but we're not there yet'

·4 min read

Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall is no stranger to shaking things up in the workplace.

As an executive at AT&T (T), where she worked for nearly four decades, she pushed for diversity and inclusion in her leadership roles.

When Mavericks owner Mark Cuban came calling in 2018 in the midst of sexual misconduct allegations within the organization, Marshall laid out a 100-day plan to turn its culture around. But, Marshall said the national reckoning on race over the last year, largely driven by the Black Lives Matter movement, has prompted the most dramatic change for executives like herself.

“It's made us a lot more intentional,” Marshall told Yahoo Finance. “I think [the events of the last year] have caused us to really focus on the equity and inclusion piece, and not just the diversity piece, where we're focusing on the numbers and diversifying our teams. It's making us really look at our policies, look at our public policies, our internal company policies, and making us really make commitments to change.”

Marshall has uniquely positioned the Mavericks to drive those changes, largely because of the results she has achieved on diversity, in just three years. When she first joined, the franchise had no women or people of color on its executive team. Today, it consists of both 47% women, and 47% people of color.

Marshall set the NBA standard for diversity and inclusion, in her first year on the job. She did that in part, by developing a values-based employee system, setting up a 24-hour hotline for employees to report concerns, and bringing in outside businesses to implement ongoing ethics, compliance, and unconscious bias training.

“We have achieved success, but we're not there yet. We're definitely not there yet,” she said.

Marshall’s success comes, as corporate America faces increasing pressure to act on issues of race and social justice. When the Black Lives Matter movement flared up last summer, a long list of brands including Nike (NKE), Citigroup (C), and Netflix (NFLX) rushed to publicly align themselves with the movement. Amid the growing attention around anti-Asian-American hate, tech executives including Alphabet’s (GOOG) Sundar Pichai have taken to Twitter to condemn the violence.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 11: CEO of the Dallas Mavericks Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall speaks onstage during The 2020 MAKERS Conference on February 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for MAKERS)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 11: CEO of the Dallas Mavericks Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall speaks onstage during The 2020 MAKERS Conference on February 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for MAKERS)

On Wednesday, 72 prominent Black American executives signed a letter calling on business leaders to fight against what they say are restrictive voting rights bills being advanced in more than 40 states,

'People are becoming increasingly more aware'

Professional sports have been in the thick of the discussions around equity, with the NBA actively using its platforms to elevate the messages of players, who are predominantly Black.

“I think [the activism] definitely comes from employees saying they want employers who are a part of [the discussion]. Most folks now, look at your values, they look at your social plans, they look at corporate social responsibility before they even sign up to come to work for you. That's different than it was 10 or 20 years ago,” Marshall said. “I think also people are becoming increasingly more aware of the business case for diversity...that you can win the war for talent, that you can actually increase your customer base, you can actually increase your profitability by doing business with diverse suppliers.”

A new study out from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport suggests that increased focus on diversity and inclusion is yielding results. On racial hiring practices, all professional sports leagues, except for the NFL and MLB, received an A grade or higher. While the NBA scored an A+, it received a B grade on gender equity.

“I do believe it comes down to retention. To make sure that once we bring people in, they see women in leadership, that they see that they have a chance to advance, that they have mentoring, but not just mentoring. That they also have sponsors and people who are going to help get them into different positions,” Marshall said. “It’s not just internally but externally, as well. When you look at our whole industry, looking at broadcasters, looking at our suppliers. There's a whole ecosystem that I think we have to really lift women up in that ecosystem, and then be there for each other. And it's the men and the women who have to do that lifting.”

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita