Marketing-Turned-Healthcare Exec Joy Altimare Talks D&I in the Workplace

Woman seated in an office
Healthcare Executive Joy Altimare

Black people account for about 12 percent of the U.S. population, but occupy only 3.2 percent of the senior leadership roles at large companies in the U.S. and just about 0.8 percent of all Fortune 500 CEO positions, according to analysis by the Center for Talent Innovation.

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace is just one of the several topics Joy Altimare, Chief Engagement and Brand Officer at EHE Health, has become conversant on over the course of a career rooted in the marketing field and recently transitioned into the healthcare space. An expert adviser to some of the most noted companies in the nation, and a former employee at Ogilvy+Mather, GREY and Publicis, to name a few, Altimare is a Tennessee native, a Boston University graduate, and a board member at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Here, I spoke with Altimare about C-Suite leadership and more. You’ve worked in a marketing capacity with some of the biggest brands in the corporate stratosphere from Verizon to Colgate-Palmolive. Are there any particular business lessons that have served you well throughout your career?

Joy Altimare: Yes, the concept of “servant leadership” has been a guiding principle that has served me well throughout my career. Even as a junior manager, understanding the psychology behind employee motivation and behavior helped me to lead even when I didn’t have the most tenure. What is servant leadership? Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve. This is different from traditional leadership where the leader’s main focus is the thriving of their company or organizations.    There are ten key servant leadership traits: listening, empathy, stewardship, foresight, persuasion, conceptualization, awareness, healing, commitment to the growth and development of people, and building community – all are truly important in creating a culture of compassion, collaboration and productivity. What are some of the issues associated with racial bias in the workplace, and how can executives play a role in alleviating it?

Joy Altimare: Racial bias is demonstrated from recruitment to retention within the work place.  Recently I shared my thoughts regarding defeating racial bias within the workplace by doing some key things. Here are 3 of my 5 recommendations:

Start with your mission. Companies should have embedded in their mission a component that is dedicated to diversity as an attribute to the company’s growth, success and future.  When it’s simply a box to check, the insincerity of that effort leads to trying to “get the candidate for the cheapest price”.  This is a disservice to the company and the candidate.

Know your own history and track record. Companies should take an audit of salaries across the board – looking at different employee/candidate offers for the same roles.  Looking at the data can provide a startling awakening – when you see the facts from the data, you cannot argue against the evidence of a trend rooted in racism and sexism.

Commit to looking for diverse talent –beyond the DEI role.  This is important.  Most leadership positions helped by people of color are in the diversity, equity and inclusion sector within the organization.  While it’s important to have a person of color ally in this role, it is also inappropriate to have people of color only in this tile.  It compartmentalizes the problem without working toward a proper solution.  Look at hiring the best talent for the role and train the interviewing team to recognize their own unconscious biases that can deter a candidate for pursuing the role or limit the candidate for being consider further.  We can’t address the pay gap until we have an offer on the table. What is the current state of C-Suite Black leadership in the halls of some of the nation’s leading corporations?

Joy Altimare: It’s awful – full stop.  It’s a very monolithic environment where white males over 55 years-old take the majority of the seats.  Usually, the POC is in the DEI role, but that’s just a box-check, not really a demonstration from the corporation that they recognize the need and value for more diversity within the leadership of the organization.  And, this is true on major corporation boards – rarely are people of color and women  of color recognized for their achievements and value to the organization, so we’re often overlooked for these roles.  And, when there is a people of color in the leadership role, it’s usually one. 

That’s also a disservice to the employee, organization and future diverse candidates.  Even for myself, I think about the unique opportunity that I have to serve as a leader with one of the oldest companies in America – it’s a blessing and I am truly grateful.  But, it is truly because of the grace and the open-mindedness of an innovative CEO who believes, supports and empowers me – but, what will the future look like.  I’m in my early 40’s; 20 years (or more, look at Nancy Pelosi!) left to greatly contribute to the fabric of society and women of color deal with the double whammy – gender and race. What is your advice to corporations that look to tackle growth, innovation and technology challenges?

Joy Altimare: My advice is to ask yourself, your leaders and your company — what’s your mission?  Do you live it everyday?  Second, do you operate out of fear or calculated risk?  You can’t grow without the latter – and if you are paralyzed by the unknown, you’re in the wrong industry, role and company. 

Lastly, do you really care about the consumer experience?  If you do – where does digital product (or your innovation arm) sit in relation to marketing?  If they are not directly connected – it’ll be harder to deliver truly impactful innovation. What advice do you have for recent college grads navigating their entrance into the workplace?

Joy Altimare: Post-COVID, the work place will look very different.  In fact, it may look like your own home.  For recent graduates, they’ll miss the typical on-boarding, initial team lunch and the benefits of organic bonding with teammates based on proximity.  Therefore, mindset will be key to successful matriculation from college to the professional setting.  Here are some important tips:

1)       Maintain a positive and proactive mindset.  Employers want you to be productive and we all know that productivity begins with a positive mindset. 

2)       Flexibility – can do, will do. I can guarantee that you’re going to have unpredictability in your first job.  While the job description outlined the role – it didn’t outline the changes in the marketplace and how that could affect the demands of your role. 

3)       Ready for Growth – adapting the Entrepreneurial-Spirit.   Today, more than ever, Employers will want to see a demonstrated effort towards growth; it’ll show that you are committed to the organization and are a great fit for the culture. 

4)       Willing to learn the business as it’s reinventing itself. Many organizations are learning how to navigate this new normal, post-COVID. Beyond being flexible, companies need help as they begin to reinvent their go-to market strategies, their approach and the future.