Celebrating Black History Month: Ken Chenault Talks Diversity in the Workforce, TIAA Takes Students on an Educational Journey

“Be intellectually curious, push the envelope, and be caring and decisive.”

These are wise words from Ken Chenault, Chairman and Managing Director of General Catalyst and former American Express Chairman and CEO, who spoke to TIAA employees on February 6 in TIAA’s New York City office and broadcasted nationally to TIAA employees via phone and video conference.

In honor of Black History Month, and in support of TIAA’s Empowered Employee Resource Group (ERG) for Black professionals, Mr. Chenault spoke about the importance of diversity in the workplace and actions we can all take every day to embody true leadership.

Mr. Chenault shared his experiences with becoming an effective and decisive leader. He also shared advice and actions everyone can take to push for diversity and change in the workforce nationwide:

  • Rely on your values in times of crisis, being decisive and compassionate
  • Bring your whole self to work
  • Express yourself fully
  • Create a welcoming environment
  • Take personal responsibility to drive innovation

Mr. Chenault also shared best practices on how companies can be innovative in their approach to increasing diversity. He explained that diversity and inclusion needs to be handled like a core business initiative. He reiterated the obvious need for more diverse leadership in America – more CEOs of color and women are needed.

Mr. Chenault encouraged companies to increase hiring of diverse talent to build a diverse pipeline as a way of increasing diversity in leadership as well. “We have a long way to go, to improve diversity,” he said. He emphasized that the company culture has to be evident that people are truly included and engaged with each other. “Fundamentally, if you’re talking about culture – if people are proud and engaged – that’s what you want,” he said.

Other best practices he shared:

  • Define objectives and execute to create outcomes
  • Have great invention and transformation. Become the company that could put you out of business one day
  • Innovate or die. Don’t stand still
  • Build a diverse pipeline of talent
  • Have survey and metrics on diversity – it creates accountability

After the discussion, TIAA recognized Mr. Chenault with the inaugural TIAA Leadership in Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) Award for demonstrating commitment to I&D, challenging the status quo, and raising the bar in the workplace for fair and equitable treatment.

“Ken Chenault’s fireside chat energized and inspired those who attended the event. TIAA employees commented that they were most struck by Ken’s definition of his leadership style as one that was caring and decisive, where he defined reality and gave hope and one where he integrated diversity and inclusion into every aspect of business outcomes,” said Zarifa Reynolds, Head of Corporate Development at TIAA and New York Chapter Co-Lead of the Empowered Employee Resource Group (ERG).

“Mr. Chenault’s perspective resonated with our employees by demonstrating the efficacy of inclusion as a business imperative. Inclusion is not simply morally right – it’s a key source of customer centricity, innovation, and business results,” said Jourdan Jones, Sr. Director of Marketing Strategy at TIAA and New York Chapter Co-Lead of the Empowered Employee Resource Group (ERG).

TIAA advocates for diversity and inclusion – in and outside the office. In addition to inviting Ken to speak to employees for Black History Month, TIAA is also celebrating by giving back to the community and pushing the envelope for diversity in education and opportunities for students.

“Innovation – we have to own it every day,” said Corie Pauling, Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer at TIAA. “Getting everyone involved in the I&D work is an important strategy and goal for TIAA, which will help position the company for the next 100 years.”

TIAA’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team is providing an opportunity for local students in Charlotte at Vance High School, an adopt-a-school relationship TIAA has established, to participate in an educational Washington D.C. field trip. Fifty students (10th-12th grades) will partake in a unique tour experience within the National Museum of African American History and Culture on February 23. Students and chaperones will also tour Howard University, a HBCU in D.C., to learn about the college and its programs. TIAA is also providing EverFi’s digital 306 African American Curriculum to an entire school district in Charlotte at no-cost.

Chosen for their exemplary African American Studies essays, these students will also have exposure to a digital, online education & training company that will further their career connections via a speed networking event at EVERFI’s headquarters in the D.C. area.

The CSR team arranged a volunteer event with the Empowered Employee Resource Group members to host a discussion at Vance H.S. around the 306 curriculum, specifically on the lessons / modules of the “Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” “The Tuskegee Institute,” and “W.E.B. Du Bois.”

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