Article

Simply Increasing Staff Diversity Doesn’t Equal More Top Black Leaders

diverse women in a business meeting
Felicia Hudson Hannafan Photo
Contributing Writer
Hudson Creative Copy

5 minutes

A telling Q&A with two participants in PSCU Bold Effective Leaders: A CUES Strategic Leadership Development Program

According to a report by McKinsey & Company, while “companies have successfully hired Black employees into frontline and entry-level jobs, there is a significant drop-off in representation at management levels.” And though a percentage of employees advance to senior management, the C-Suite remains elusive for many. The report also cites that among the challenges to Black employees are lack of sufficient opportunities to advance, lack of sponsorship and allyship to support their advancement, and variability in representation at executive levels in organizations.
 
Some companies, like CUESolutions provider PSCU, St. Petersburg, Florida, aim to combat this situation. In this Q&A, PSCU staff members Michael Dove, VP/center process excellence, and Sheila Porter, VP/enterprise program management, share their experiences and insights gained as members of the first cohort of PSCU Bold Effective Leaders: A CUES Strategic Leadership Development Program.

Developed and facilitated by CUES Consulting for Black and African American leaders at PSCU, the year-long program was a blended learning experience that included live online sessions led by prominent business school faculty and industry leaders, independent study modules, and virtual courses provided by Cornell and Harvard Business Publishing.
 
Q: Have you learned anything about yourself during this process?

MD: I’m a lifelong learner. I love learning and getting new information. This course taught me that I don’t always look at new information in a new way. I have a way of receiving information, digesting it and leveraging it for whatever things I need to accomplish. This course gave me an opportunity to not only receive the information but really change my perspective.

I’ve been in financial services for over 30 years and I’ve been a leader for more than 20 years, but I decided to go in and really absorb this information as though I’m learning it all for the first time. And I was able to learn things differently. I really needed to change my perspective, and this course allowed me to do that. I’ve been using what I’ve learned with my team as well and can see the difference in behavior as well as reactions.

SP: I really appreciated the assessment, which helped me to identify blind spots and understand how others see me. They also were great tools for self-reflection and self-awareness as part of our leadership growth. I am goals-oriented, so I have worked on making changes based on feedback, but have also learned the importance of giving myself time to reflect and plan.

Q: Sheila, what was the experience like for you as both a leader and a participant?

SP: As a leader, I encourage development for my team–not only because it helps them, but it helps the company. But, honestly, I had not taken the time to sharpen my saw in leadership and strategic development. The courses and frameworks, such as the Applying Strategic Influence and the Strategy Planning and Execution courses, arrived at the perfect time to assist me in creating plans or using the framework to make decisions. It helped me to reframe my thoughts and encouraged me to be vulnerable to others and ask for assistance.

Q: Mike, you say that the program is helping all the leaders to improve their skills. Were there any skills that you particularly wanted to improve upon?

MD: Absolutely, I would say my ability to influence. In my role at PSCU, I lead our enterprise process excellence and quality. I’m doing process improvement, quality management, problem-solving, risk and error mitigation, and things of that nature. A lot of my job consists of change management. Often, I’m communicating a need for change, so I have to be able to influence by building trust and getting people to understand that the change could be a good thing.  

I’ve struggled with that and have focused on my communication style. What this program taught me was it’s not that I can’t communicate; I can even get senior leadership to repeat back to me what I communicated … I just didn’t sell it. I didn’t initiate change, and that’s what I need to do.

Q: What might the next steps be for you in your ongoing development as a leader?

MD: One of the things I’m going to do is execute on the things I learned, disseminate that down through my team and demonstrate that my broader skill set is improved.
 
Secondly, I’m going to look for opportunities to develop myself more regularly. Whether it’s getting a subscription to Harvard Business Review or working with Marvin [York] to get additional small group programming for continuous learning, I’m going to maintain the momentum I have gained from this program because now I know that I have more I can learn. It is not the additional information; it’s about perspective. It’s about looking at things differently. It’s about relearning some things I thought I learned because things have changed.

SP: I plan to put into practice what I have learned with a focus on strategic thinking and the needs of the organization. I will continue to self-reflect and look for opportunities to improve on communication and branding. I will also continue using my knowledge to develop others and my next career path.

Q: Any final thoughts you’d like to add about the program?

MD: Tying this into diversity, equity and inclusion, a program could also be tailored to senior leadership. We do this work every day, but is it truly recognized or understood? One of the things that the training taught us [participants] was that just because we are skilled and know what we do at a high level, if no one else recognizes it—or if people are wearing cultural blinders—it is a barrier. We are then forced to make the effort to try to get through that. So what I’d like to see is an effort on the part of senior leadership to understand that they are part of the opportunity for improvement. They are senior leaders who have made it to the top levels and can recognize the best future prospects. The question is, can you recognize qualified people of color waiting in the wings who are not being considered because of unrecognized cultural bias? I believe we reflect a successful cohort and the leadership components our organization strives for. I definitely support CUES offering this programming to other credit union cohorts, adjusted for different levels of leadership.

SP: Statistics show that people of color are rare at executive levels and therefore, development and mentoring from executives is severely lacking. I hope this program will be offered across our industry to provide people of color an opportunity to illustrate our desire for future growth and our knowledge and skills to succeed in an executive role.

Formerly a member of the CUES marketing staff, Felicia Hudson Hannafan is a writer based in Chicago.

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