Two weeks ago at the "off-the-record" Black Corporate Directors conference, GE CEO Jeff Immelt (the Don Geis of the real world) made some comments that raised eyebrows. Jossip first broke the thin OTR seal late yesterday and reported them thusly:
At the panel, [moderator Soledad O'Brien] asked Immelt about diversity at NBC Universal — primarily, its lack of it. Immelt responded, according to our tipster, that he hires who he is "comfortable with." He followed up that statement by listing, in order, the "type" of people he trusts. And they are:
1) White Men
2) White Women
3) Black Men
4) Black Women
Okay, honestly, more than just eyebrows were raised. But since it was off the record and Jossip had only one source, GE officials are disputing this account.
While no official denial has been issued that we've seen, GE spokesman Jeff DeMarrais posted (highly professionally) in the Jossip comments section. This is what he said:
Jeff Immelt named the first African-American vice chair in GE's history. Under his leadership the company has been named the "World's Best Company for Diversity" (2006)and "Great Place to Work" (2007) by Black Enterprise magazine. This website lays out the progress GE has made in its commitment to diversity under Immelt's tenure. (http://www.ge.com/citizenship/) And you've twisted his positive speech about inclusiveness into an unrecognizable and unbelievable post. Shame on you.
And, for added weight, two black GE officials also added their two cents. In the comments, again, obviously:
As two members of the audience at the Black Corporate Directors conference, the Jossip post is a gross mischaracterization of what Jeff Immelt said and is taken completely out of context. When asked about how he personally thinks about diversity and his personal journey to be more inclusive, Jeff used an example that he’s used many times to describe how he’s worked to expand his relationships with diverse people. [Ed: They didn't say what this example was, and how it was not racist] Jeff added that while previous generations seldom made efforts to break their “circle of comfort,” in their personal and professional relationships, today no GE leader gets a bye on this. At no point in this discussion did Jeff say that he does not trust African Americans!
As two African American former senior members of the GE management team and former members of the GE Corporate Executive Counsel with over 60 years of combined service in the company, we are aware that GE, like most companies, is not perfect. However, we strongly believe that GE has done much more than most in moving the ball forward on diversity and Jeff has always been a key leader in this effort! —Lloyd Trotter, Art Harper
We're still unclear on what was actually said, and Gawker has already urged Soledad O'Brien to give her version of events. We'd be satisfied with a GE explanation — one that appears somewhere more reputable than the comments section of a gossip blog.