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Preparing Executive Leaders for the Journey of Belonging

Setting the Stage

The white male owner of a 107-year-old family business was shaken by the social unrest resulting from the George Floyd murder and began to take stock of how Black employees in his predominately white male employee population may be processing the experience.

Background Information

The first and most important corporate value of this company is Family, and the CEO was concerned that not every member of the corporate family felt a deep sense of belonging, especially considering the social unrest in 2020. In having discussions with his Leadership Team, which included the SVP of Human Capital, a Caucasian woman of Jewish descent, the SVP of Sales, an African American male, the SVP of Finance, an Indian American male, the SVP of New Product Development, and the SVP of Operations, both white males, he made it clear that this was a problem he wanted addressed immediately.

The Challenge

Unbeknownst to the consultant, who serves a variety of clients in the capacities of both Executive Coach and Team Dynamics Strategist, the leadership team itself needed an intervention of sorts to work through their own trust issues before addressing trust among Black employees and others. It surfaced during the first two in-person sessions that trust among the leaders needed to be explored before moving forward with plans to address diversity and inclusion from a place of authenticity and transparency. Although following sessions were virtual, new levels of trust continued to be attained.

The Approach

An Executive Level Mastermind was scheduled for 6 weeks that stretched to 10 weeks and culminated in the development of a Team Charter and Strategic Inclusion Plan as the Capstone. Several activities were facilitated that helped everyone become comfortable with the discomfort that accompanies vulnerability. Too often, leaders try to lead others down paths they themselves have never been on. That being the case, these leaders were asked to share their lived experiences, beginning with the SVP of Sales, an African American male. Revealing the pain of continually masking to psychologically combat the constant assumptions, interpretations, and limiting beliefs about what a Black man can and cannot accomplish at an executive level was emotional. And his willingness to talk about his lived experiences gave confidence to the SVP of Human Capital, a Caucasian woman of Jewish descent, to share that sometimes she weighs enjoying the privilege of being a white woman over the possibility of being considered “less than” were she to divulge her Jewish heritage.

The Outcomes

There were many revelations among the leadership team that gave them the firsthand knowledge of knowing and being known as people first, who happen to come from diverse backgrounds, holding executive leadership positions, that gave them the credibility to lead their organization on its journey toward Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging and usher in a new era in the company’s history. Based on an activity in which they were asked to define Belonging, a marketing campaign was developed that engaged every level of the company in sharing, from their own lived experiences at the company, what Belonging looked like, acted like, sounded like, and felt like. Just prior to the annual National Sales meeting, in which the theme of Belonging was introduced to kick-off the formal launch of the company’s DIB journey, an announcement of the new Director of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging and Talent Acquisition was received with much fanfare. The position was bestowed upon an African American woman who had been with the company for over 20 years serving in progressively high visibility and high impact roles during her tenure. Always with a passion for making every family member feel seen and included, this promotion from HR Business Partner to Director, was viewed by the entire executive leadership team as righting an overlooked wrong in demonstrating their commitment to a new era of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging.

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