paul richardson

Disney diversity officer Paul Richardson

Hitting high marks is part of the daily routine for media executive Paul Richardson. As the senior vice president of human resources at ESPN and the chief diversity officer for The Walt Disney Company, Richardson oversees a worldwide team with sharp efficiency, organization and leadership abilities that have earned him wide praise. A University of Southern California-trained attorney with over 20 years of experience in the human resources field, the busy exec recently spoke with EBONY.com about his amazing talent to multitask.

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EBONY: How would you define leadership in the corporate setting?

Paul Richardson: One of the best definitions of leadership that I have heard was very simple. “Leaders are those individuals who set out to make those around them better.” Implicit in those few words, I have found the essential qualities that define good leaders. They are the individuals whom you trust. Individuals who inspire confidence that they will act in the best interest of the organization. They view their role both as a responsibility and a privilege. And among the traits they often demonstrate, good leaders serve, learn, listen, experiment, engage, prioritize and manage to renew themselves so that they have the physical, emotional and intellectual energy to do it over and over again.

EBONY: What advice would you give to corporate executives and team leaders on how to get the best from their staffs?

PR: Start with the recognition that your success and that of your organization is inextricably linked to the contributions of your team. Then, remember that leadership at this level is personal. To successfully maximize your team, you must consider the unique needs of each individual on it. Meet people where they are. Demonstrate care and respect for their ideas, contributions and values. Be honest, and above all else, create an environment where your team trusts that you will act with integrity and in their best interests even when you disagree.

EBONY: What are your thoughts about corporate trends that are leaning more towards inclusion, rather than diversity?

PR: Generally, I am supportive of this shift. I have worked in the related spaces of employment law, human resources and diversity for over 20 years. And while some companies have successfully expanded the concept of diversity and its relevance to tangible business outcomes, far too many have not. The diversity label too often seems narrow and only triggers concepts and initiatives that address issues of race and gender.

Create an environment where your team trusts that you will act with integrity and in their best interests even when you disagree.

And while by no means am I suggesting that this isn’t important, I do mean to suggest that it isn’t enough. Moving to address issues of inclusion gives this space a much broader platform. It embraces the perspective that everyone matters. Everyone’s voice and participation will be required to drive employee engagement, productivity and marketplace success.

Ultimately, the emphasis on inclusion expands our corporate opportunity to unleash the collective and unique power, talent, and abilities of the entire workforce to win in this era of globalization.      

EBONY: In a perfect world, what would a diverse, inclusive workforce look like?

PR: It would be a world where both employees and managers at all levels are open to and embrace diversity. It would be an inclusive world that reflects a global perspective where every member of the workforce could freely bring their “whole” self to work, be valued for their unique talents and gifts, and be afforded the opportunity to contribute, succeed and develop to their full potential.

EBONY: How do you balance your various responsibilities as an executive at Disney and ESPN?

PR: Funny, I’m not confident that I do! With ESPN and the leadership of the human resources function, there is a full-throttle experience, and the Disney diversity role is equally demanding. Without question, any measure of success in doing both mostly comes from being surrounded by an outstanding team of professionals who are experts in their individual fields, and through their willingness to help achieve a vision and to work towards delivering against our goals.

Additionally, I attempt to find balance in both roles through my ability to prioritize and focus. Simply put, I force myself to get the most critical tasks done first and to be keenly focused on the most significant and strategically beneficial activity. Consequently, I trust my team to execute and try to spend the vast majority of my time setting clear direction and ensuring we have the resources and tools necessary to accomplish our goal.      

EBONY: What advice do you give African-Americans seeking to build a career?

PR: There is no substitute for professional excellence. Build a reputation of being an expert and exceptional at your craft. This is your calling card, and in a world of social media and global connectivity, your professional reference and the ability for others to ascertain it are only a few keystrokes or clicks away.

I would then suggest that you extend your professional network. Find those events, activities and organizations that are attended by the individuals you would like to meet or get to know. Use your existing networks to make introductions and open doors.

Gil Robertson IV is an award-winning journalist, bestselling author and president of the African-American Film Critics Association.