Last month, aspiring mid-level managers engaged members of The Executive Leadership Council over two days of professional development seminars led by today’s leading African American corporate executives, thought leaders and educators.
Designed for early career managers, mid-level managers and seasoned managers, the 21st annual two-day event began with an opening general session moderated by Leilani Brown, vice president and chief marketing officer for Starr Companies. Carla Harris, Executive Leadership Council Chair and Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, served as keynote speaker.
“For those of us who are members, our organization is not simply about celebrating our individual achievements or being a member of an elite group. As members, our involvement and work with the ELC is aligned around a common interest and goal. And that is to create a robust pipeline of diverse corporate leaders…rising executives who are ready to take a seat at the table,” said Brown.
She continued, “What we know for sure is that the lack of representation of African Americans in corporate leadership has nothing to do with ability, nothing to do with brilliance, nothing to do with ambition or work ethic. The lack is often attributed to opportunity. And we intend to fix that. To the extent that it might have anything to do with the challenges of navigating an unfamiliar corporate landscape or the understanding of the “unwritten” rules, we intend to fix that, too.”
And for the next two days, all parties involved commenced to doing just that.
The general session sparked a lively panel discussion starring Tara Jaye Frank, vice president, Multicultural Strategy for Hallmark Cards; Chris Simmons, former managing partner, PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC), and CEO, Moments LLC; Oral Muir, vice president, Global Distribution and Cross-Channel Strategy, Marriott International; and Geri Thomas, senior vice president, chief diversity officer and Georgia State President, Bank of America. The panelists shared their decades-long experiences in a conversation that covered executive presence, women in the workplace, managing peers and the meaning of authenticity, among other topics.
Attendees listened intently as panelists shared their workplace wisdom: “Be uncomfortable where you are. Benchmark where you are. What is your benchmark for winning? Find the metric that is right for you;” “Be completely authentic and others will accept you. Allow people to accept you and remember that not everyone will be a fan;” “Chistle and prune yourself. Study others; adopt some parts and get rid of other parts;” “Compliment your colleagues. It goes a long way;” “Whatever you do, enjoy it enough that you want to wake up every day and do it;” “Your professional network is one of the most important things to consider;” “Doing great work gives people the justification to hook you up. Having them love you gives them the motivation to hook you up;” “You should not work for a company whose values you don’t share. What got you there, won’t keep you there. Change is prevalent,” to name a few of the takeaways.
Event sponsors included PepsiCo Foundation and Target, both of whom expressed a deep interest in diversity & inclusion.
“Target is an ELC member and we are fortunate to support the ELC. We have sponsored the Gala on a number of occasions. Today, it gives us a chance to develop talent all across the country,” Laysha Ward, EVP & Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer at Target Corporation, told TNJ.com.
She continued, “Diversity and inclusion drives innovation for Target and others. We are prepping the next generation for their seat at the table. With practical, relevant experience they will be able to become successful leaders and mentors.”
Deborah Rosado Shaw, SVP, Chief Global Diversity & Engagement Officer at PepsiCo, told TNJ.com, “PepsiCo is known throughout corporate America as a leader, and capitalizing on the opportunity of ethnicity today has been a long tradition since the 1940’s. Back then, PepsiCo had, what was called, a “Negro marketing team.” The company was the first to look at an ongoing effort to market to a diverse consumer and every year, we give awards to the most innovative, diversity-driven companies throughout the world. It’s a tremendous tradition in honor of what the Black community is about.”
The day closed with networking receptions and industry-focused dinners.
On Day Two, participants had the opportunity to choose from three informative cohort sessions: Initiating and Maintaining Vision to Achieve Future Success, led by Eric Watson, President, Carolinas-Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council and Darryl Simon, President & Founder, Vantage Growth Strategic Advisors; Mastering Sustained Vision to Competitively Exceed as a Manager, led by Valerie Lewis, Assistant Vice President & Assistant Secretary, Safeway, Inc. and Tara Jaye Frank, Vice President of Multicultural Strategy, Hallmark Cards, Inc.; Maintaining Upward Trajectory for Exceeding Vision Driven Expectations, led by D. Keith Pigues, CEO & Founder, Luminas Strategy and James Calvin, Professor, Johns Hopkins University.
“The day was very impactful. We focused on visionary leadership in not just talking but thinking through how to bring all that we learned back to our everyday lives. Hearing the presenters was great and the fact that it was an interactive session where I learned from my counterparts was enriching and brought to life how I can be a visionary leader,” Wendy Ross, Marketing Director at American Express, told TNJ.com.
Q&A followed, with conversations spilling out into the halls after the sessions wrapped up.
(CLICK HERE for a related article about The Executive Leadership Council.)