Orlando Ashford, the president of Holland America Line, gave an impassioned keynote speech at Carnival House last night, as part of the company’s National Inclusion Week events programme.
Ashford, who is the first African American executive to be president of a cruise line, spoke about creating a culture of inclusivity within an organisation and why it was important to let employees be themselves.
The Holland America boss has previously held senior positions within human resources for major corporations including Coca-Cola, Mercer and Motorola. He has also written a book Talentism: unlocking the potential of the new human.
He explained that for companies to be successful they needed to have “a broad range of experiences at the table”.
“If you can leverage the power of the collective you will win,” he said. “Groups are smarter than individuals and diverse groups beat homogeneous ones.”
To be a good employer to different cultures and nationalities, Ashford said used the example of when he was at Coca-Cola and headed up HR in 90 countries.
To make employees feel valued across those markets, Ashford focused on the common goals of employees, which he defined as working in a healthy environment, providing for their families, the ability to learn and grow, and contribute and feel valued.
Employers then need to “drive cultural change within an organisation through authentic leadership”, citing times during his career when he had not felt comfortable giving answers because they were different to everyone else present at a meeting.
“We can’t celebrate differences if we’re not prepared to talk about them,” he said, adding that companies are stronger “when everyone can show up be themselves”.