We are living in a paradox. Today, we are more connected than we have ever been. Yet, the disconnect that divides the world has never been more obvious. It has become paramount to work toward integrating the differing opinions and voices into a productive framework. Page Society Chairman Dave Samson of Chevron drove home the point when he said, “There’s no better time to discuss the topic of building community” during his opening remarks on the first day of the 2017 Annual Conference.

The day kicked off with some refreshing candor from United Airlines’ CEO Oscar Munoz as he spoke about United’s and his own journey through crisis. As he recalled his recent heart attack as well as his visit to Houston to check in on employees who had been affected by Hurricane Harvey, he ruminated about the importance of creating and maintaining personal connections in the professional world. As the leader of his organization, he believes in putting United employees at the center and communicating regularly and efficiently with them because that is what gives an organization a sense of purpose. “Communication is not part of the game, it IS the game," he said. However, what matters is making those conversations more about listening, understanding and creating personal connections, and connecting in a genuine way.

As he spoke about personal connections, he also touched upon personal accountability, especially as a leader for his over 90,000 employees. Following the aftermath of UA 3411 in Chicago, he publicly admitted it that he got it wrong. That was not only an important teaching moment but also a learning one, because it propelled United to become a more people-centric airline. In fact, Mr. Munoz took the lesson to heart and made a public statement on DACA. While it was important to strike the balance between a personal voice and that of a CEO, he remained undeterred. He understood that there were many who were as passionate about the issue as he is, and it was important to start a conversation and bring people together in a moment of need.

Speaking of starting important conversations and building a sense of community, the second session of the day, led by Sheryl Battles of Pitney Bowes, took a deep dive into the positive business impact of diversity and inclusion. Panelists Rochelle Ford of S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, Anthony Gooch of OECD, Luke Lambert of G&S Business Communications and Marta Newhart, former Fortune 100 CCO, presented cases that prove the power of inclusion and the impact it has had on an organization's business goals.

“It takes courage and commitment to mind the gap in diversity and inclusion and have the conversations that need to be had,” Battles said. But if you show the courage and demonstrate your commitment, you can see some true business results. And, facts and figures talk. Gooch noted that if we were to truly achieve gender equality, we would witness a 12% increase in GDP. Dr. Ford quoted studies that show how increasing the number of women and minorities in the C-suite positively impacts a company's business goals. And employees today judge companies on their stance on social issues and social purpose.

As Darcy Keller of Financial Times, chair of 2017 Annual Conference, pointed out, CCOs are uniquely qualified to be the advocates of this change. It is important for CCOs to navigate the complexities of today’s environment in order to help our companies to better engage with a variety of stakeholders, to serve as integrators within the C-Suite, and to help companies connect with markets, clients, partners, and the communities in which they operate. So the time is now for communicators to mind the gap, work together with colleagues across the C-Suite and truly understand the wants and needs of stakeholders, while taking a stance on issues that are critical to enterprise values.