- Insider is taking you behind the scenes of the best stories with our series "The Inside Story."
- It's an in-depth look at how these stories came together and a peek inside the reporter's notebook.
- This week, Marguerite Ward talked about covering leadership and nuances in corporate America's diversity.
You're an Insider correspondent who covers a broad gamut of business, leadership, and diversity in corporate America. How did you get to covering these topics?
My leadership beat started back when I was a reporter at CNBC. The news outlet was launching a section called "CNBC Make It" about career, leadership, and entrepreneurship, and I was one of two reporters tasked with helping editors build the brand and start the beat. I naturally was drawn to covering stories about successful women and people of color.
That experience later came into play at Insider when the team was looking for a leadership reporter who focused on diversity in business. So it's been a natural passion of mine. I'm also the daughter of an Egyptian immigrant and someone with an invisible disability, so it's deeply personal to me.
A big part of it comes down to getting corporate leaders to define their accomplishments and progress in real terms, to get them to toss the jargon. Once I get a clear picture of the work they're doing, I'm able to measure success based on their peers, as well as what people are demanding of leaders. Accountability is also hugely important. We have to ask executives tough questions.
Who or what have been some of the most challenging topics to report on? How did you overcome them?
I think there are two types of challenging stories for me. One is intellectually challenging, when I have to weave a lot of information about a new topic together. As a leadership correspondent who focuses on diversity, the range of issues I cover is broad. Learning about a new person or industry is fun but can be difficult when you have a matter of hours to do so.
The second type of challenging story is one I do often, where the stakes are high in getting things wrong. In some stories, there is a "right" and a "wrong," but in many others, there is a gray area where something may be done with good intention but still be harmful, or something that seems fine is actually wrong for many reasons, for example.
Showing the nuances around DEI issues is extremely important but difficult. To be clear, this is not the same thing as showing "all sides" to issues where there is clearly a right and a wrong but rather explaining the full context of an issue, the intentions, the timeline, etc.
What has it been like reporting on the intersections of race and banking, where you've followed the money of Wall Street's biggest banks and zeroed in on Wells Fargo's first diversity report? What are some of your biggest takeaways about these diversity initiatives and pledges?
It's been a real joy following the news of diversity and equity in banking, as I think it's one of the most important things happening in the world today. CEOs and executives are thinking about how they can reshape institutions and processes that have marginalized certain groups for decades, if not centuries. That's important work. The biggest takeaways I've learned are: 1. This change will not happen overnight, 2. this change is difficult, so having some empathy for leaders who make mistakes along the way is something to consider, 3. we need to keep financial leaders accountable to goals they've laid out.
You've pressed corporate executives and business leaders on their commitments to racial and social justice in Insider's "The Equity Talk," as well in a video panel on how CEOs can address climate change. How do you prepare for these events, and what are best practices in moderating conversations about challenging topics?
It's always good to research what your source has said in the news. This can help you find out what they're passionate about, as well as find any inconsistencies in their viewpoints to talk about.
I always write down bullet points of topics I want to address. I don't script out a good chunk of what I do. It's more fun when the conversation is organic. Viewers can tell. When it comes to approaching challenging topics, I remember to be sensitive. I also remember to phrase my questions in a way that shows my job isn't to attack anyone but to get to the truth.
Walk us through a day in your work life — including your reporting routines and rituals.
I work remotely, so my day starts off signing onto Slack, checking in with my editors, getting some caffeine, and figuring out my must-dos or deliverables for the day to stay on track.
I approach my day with: What story am I publishing next? What's my top priority? Then, I list off my tasks based on that — from most important to do to not as important. If I'm doing busy work like answering emails, I'll play music. It helps me concentrate. Before signing off for the day, I'll check on my schedule for the next day to help me mentally prepare and organize.
For folks trying to understand the actual gains made in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, what are readings you'd recommend?
I'd say check out some of my stories. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is so broad, but some good starters are:
- Jamie Dimon and other Fortune 500 CEOs reflect on how George Floyd's death forever changed their approach to leadership.
- OkCupid is changing the online-dating world — a culture of inclusion is key to innovation, a top exec says.
I also recommend following Just Capital's research. Just Capital, an independent nonprofit research firm, stays on the pulse of the latest diversity trends.
How has covering progressive movements and people in the corporate world changed your own perspectives about the future of marginalized and underrepresented identities in America?
The more I cover DEI, the more I realize how intersectional these issues are. Policies and practices that uplift one marginalized group almost always benefit members of other marginalized groups. It's not a zero-sum game. People don't have to be pitted against one another.
I'm also learning how much a pushback there is to certain ideas at this moment in time. So-called progress is not a straight line. We're in a unique time where technology, capitalism, and climate change are all colliding to fuel many things at the same time: misinformation, opportunity, scapegoating, inequity, stress, and inclusion. It's a fascinating time to be a reporter.