Driving Diversity Is Personal for Reed, USA Truck's CEO


Driving Diversity Is Personal for Reed, USA Truck's CEO
USA Truck CEO James Reed, fourth from right, holding child, has more diversity in his family than he does at the top of his company, but he’s working on that. Reed has a daughter who is a Pacific Islander, a daughter-in-law who is Black and a biracial grandchild. “I’m a little sensitive to the issue to begin with,” he says.

CEO James Reed doesn’t try to minimize the fact that there isn’t a lot of color on USA Truck’s website.

Of the Van Buren’s company’s 12-member leadership team, 11 are men and one is a woman. Not one belongs to an ethnic minority. The same is true for the company’s seven-person board of directors, which consists of five men and two women.

“It’s embarrassing; we are all white,” Reed said.

Reed is one of many executives in the state who are banging the drum for businesses to become more diverse and inclusive, a movement that has gained momentum in the wake of recent Black Lives Matter protests.

Companies such as Walmart Inc. of Bentonville and Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale have been vocal about the issue, and both of those companies’ top executives took the Northwest Arkansas Council’s pledge to fight systemic racism.

There are statistics that show diverse companies do better financially, something important in the for-profit business world. For Reed, the cause is personal and moral.

Reed, 48, has a teenage daughter whom he and his wife adopted from Kosrae, an island in the Federated States of Micronesia. He also has an African American daughter-in-law and a biracial granddaughter.

“I’m a little sensitive to the issue to begin with,” Reed said. “It is just the right thing to do.”

When Reed’s daughter went to get her driver’s license, there wasn’t a category for “Pacific Islander” for her ethnicity.

“She is listed as Black on her driver’s license, which is not a problem, but it does highlight that there is a lack of awareness in our area about the ethnic diversity that exists in our community, even in my own household,” Reed said.

USA Truck’s highest ranking minority executive is Lionel Riley, who joined the company in May 2019 and heads its talent management and strategic workforce planning.

Reed said he tried to hire another minority executive, but that man and his wife decided against relocating to the River Valley.

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Good Intentions

Proponents of diversity and inclusion said companies have to be intentional in their hiring and promoting decisions.

Noel White, the CEO of Tyson Foods, wrote an open letter to the company’s employees earlier this summer in which he listed the steps Tyson was taking to promote diversity and inclusion, which included donating $5 million during the next three years to community groups working for equality.

Tyson has three women and two minorities on its 15-person leadership team and the same number on its 13-person board of directors.

“Over our long and rich history, Tyson Foods has worked hard to create a culture of fairness, inclusion and diversity, because we believe that our diversity is one of our greatest strengths,” White wrote. “We believe our team members learn from, understand and ultimately grow from our inherent racial, cultural, religious and gender differences. But it is clear that promoting a diverse and inclusive work environment is not enough.”

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon has been unflinchingly vocal in his condemnations of racism, calling George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25 “tragic, painful and unacceptable.” The retailer releases an annual report on diversity and inclusion.

Walmart said its U.S. workforce was 56% white and 41% Black, Hispanic or Asian. The company broke down the percentages of its workforce at each level: Associates were 55% women and 44% minorities, management was 44% women and 34% minorities, and officers were 33% women and 22% minorities.

Walmart’s 10-person leadership team has four women and one minority, and its 11-person board has three women and two minorities.

“[M]y commitment is that Walmart will do even more to be a powerful force in the fight to achieve greater racial justice and equity,” McMillon wrote in the report. “I will hold myself, our leaders, and our associates to higher levels of accountability. Together we will set an even higher bar for ourselves as we take this next step in our journey to actively shape our culture to be more inclusive — not just accepting our differences, but celebrating them, every day, in every part of the company.”

Fighting Bias

Unconscious bias is one of the tricky aspects of companies trying to implement more diverse hiring practices because experts say people can act prejudicially without actively knowing.

Tyson Foods hosted a virtual reality tour that showed the effects of unconscious bias a year ago, and its leadership team and other executives participated. McMillon handpicked an “Inclusion Council” of executives — most of whom are women and/or minorities — to advise him on how to “sharpen its culture and dial up the inclusiveness.”

Reed said 65% of USA Truck’s drivers are minorities, well above the industry average of 44%, but he had a hard time finding quality minority candidates in the River Valley. So he decided to expand USA Truck’s recruiting by partnering with universities with more diverse student bodies such as the University of Memphis and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Reed, who also created a diversity and inclusion council at USA Truck, is having his entire leadership and management teams go through an unconscious bias training seminar in the coming months. At his insistence, the American Trucking Associations is forming a national subcommittee to study and promote diversity and inclusion in the industry.

“Part of it is unconscious bias that everybody has, [and] part of it is about being more open-minded and part of it is about being intentional,” Reed said. “It’s just like women in business. If people didn’t set specific goals it never would have happened. We are setting specific internal goals about inviting minorities into our business. You can expect to see more and more representation on my direct team in particular.”

Reed said the company hopes to add a minority board member — there is currently an opening on the board. He understands some employees worry about reverse discrimination but said USA Truck will always hire the best candidate.

The company is just going to cast a wider, more inclusive net.

“It is single-digit [percentage] at our director-and-above level that are ethnic minorities and that is shameful; we are going to fix it,” Reed said. “It is a sensitive issue. Qualifications come first, but we have to broaden the pool from which we draw.”