Google Sales Manager and U-M “Outstanding Alumnx” Talks DEI, Anti-Racism, and Using Business to Create a More Equitable Society
Michael Gardner, BBA ’12, was recently named an Outstanding Alumnx by The Program on Intergroup Relations for his vast inclusion work and for his commitment to social justice.
Making Organizations More Diverse and Inclusive
Gardner understands the importance of DEI firsthand after finding his place at the Ross School of Business through the Preparation Initiative, a BBA Outreach Program and learning community designed for underrepresented students who have excellent potential for business leadership.
Businesses often have the loudest voices in this society. If they invest in creating a more equitable society with the same energy they have for launching new products or services, this world will look dramatically different in my lifetime. Hard things are hard. Do them anyway.”
-Michael Gardner, BBA '12
Manager, Google Customer Solutions
As president of the Black Business Undergraduate Society and VP of Programming for Sigma Lambda Beta, Gardner introduced several important initiatives to connect students of color to diverse career paths, including DivCo, a diversity career fair that still exists today.
This work was foundational to Gardner’s DEI involvement at Google, where he became co-lead of an employee resource group that has worked to make Google Ann Arbor one of the most inclusive offices in the world. He also became involved in the Black Googler Network, for which he organized annual impact trips that offer community outreach and professional development.
Gardner managed a number of community partnerships and provided digital resources to hundreds of minority-owned businesses. In collaboration with the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, digital tools like Google Ads and G-Suite were introduced to help these businesses grow online.
“We also scaled our impact by introducing a digital literacy initiative designed to upskill students to support small businesses and nonprofits across Michigan while simultaneously investing in their professional development,” said Gardner.
Additionally, he coaches hundreds of Googlers of color through Starlight, a new development program that works to empower Black+ and Latinx Googlers and was co-founded with another Ross alum, Darcy Rhoden, BBA ’11.
Using Business to Create a More Equitable Society
Today, many organizations are quickly assessing their DEI efforts in response to anti-racism protests across the world. As society is demanding justice and equality for Black people, there is much work to be done at the organizational level, according to Gardner.
“Racism in America predates the Constitution by almost 200 years. It is a core part of this country’s identity, yet we still have not fully acknowledged that reality. From slavery to Jim Crow laws, to housing and loan discrimination, racism was and is a choice, compounded by millions of people over hundreds of years, that has resulted in perpetual pain and suffering for Black people. Anti-racism is a choice too.”
Gardner believes that the first step on the roadmap to anti-racism is for individuals to examine their own hearts, determine what they need to learn and unlearn, and then take action within their companies and communities to drive sustainable change.
From an organizational perspective, Gardner said that change begins internally with leaders ensuring that their companies are places where everyone can thrive. He believes that organizations should diversify their teams at all levels (including the board), foster an inclusive environment, maintain parity in retention and progression rates across all identities, and have the right systems and measurements in place to ensure equity. Externally, he would like to see businesses invest in anti-racist interventions that will drive long-term community transformation.
“Rethinking education, public safety, economic empowerment, healthcare, and environmental sustainability through an equity lens will benefit all Americans, but disproportionately benefit the Black community,” said Gardner. “Businesses should soberly reckon with the role that racism plays in each of these areas and determine how they can leverage their resources and core competencies to make a difference."