Diversity in Leadership: Our Story

Our long-anticipated partnership that started with an uncomfortable conversation

Most often, a challenge does not feel good. However, when recognized as an opportunity, greatness can grow from challenge.  Challenges come in many forms and proportions.  Even the smallest challenges can derail you or an organization.  The key to getting through a challenge is to discover the gift that is hiding within the struggle, using it to lead to progress.

A challenge: That is where the quest to partner with a minority-empowering organization originated in 2017.  And 3 years later, a series of challenges has led our organization to the transformational opportunity of partnering with the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio.  The Urban League and Centennial’s Executive Pathways Program is a partnership that we hope enhances the trajectory of diverse executive leadership – in Cincinnati and beyond.

You can read more about the partnership here.

Our services and more resources are here.

The Challenge of Confrontation

During a Centennial strategic planning meeting in 2017, one of our business advisors asked some pointed questions about our diversity.  As an executive search firm, we place dozens of leaders in executive roles every year.  Our business advisor wanted to know how intentional we were in making these opportunities available to diverse executives.

Diversity

How many of our placements were diverse leaders?

The topic of equality has always been an important one to Centennial, so our leadership team was quick to respond that we place a “good number” of diverse leaders. Our business advisor pressed on, asking for specific numbers to back up our assumed efforts.  We did not have them.

First, every organization needs a business advisor like ours: someone willing to challenge you on important things; someone who is willing to make you uncomfortable for the sake of the business, the greater good, and yourself. We applaud and highly value business advisors who boldly speak up.

Second, let us acknowledge that it is tempting to ignore a conversation like this, and instead choose to “move forward” with business “as-is.” However, Centennial’s leadership realized that the concepts of “move forward” and “as-is” could not coexist in our organization.  Instead, our leadership team framed this challenge as an opportunity. We got busy with data gathering and critical analysis.  We thought we were doing a good job, but were we? We let the numbers answer that question.

The Challenge of Addressing Our Metrics

Once we pulled our data, we saw that 26% of our placements were leaders of color.  Over twenty-five percent left us feeling good, but frankly, a little “ho-hum.” Were we still missing great people?  Were we being intentional enough about reaching minorities?

To gain further understanding, Centennial’s President, Mike Sipple Jr., took a deep dive into the  2015 State of Black Cincinnati Report. After careful study, and under Mike’s leadership, Centennial knew it was time to take additional action. That is when Mike and the leadership team took our metrics, our concerns, and our aspirations to Centennial’s Board of Advisors.

While our Board was proud of our diversity numbers, they felt there was an opportunity to do better.  Specifically, Centennial board member, Dr. Janet Reid, encouraged us to collaborate with an organization to create a very intentional partnership to achieve greater equity in executive searches. With Dr. Reid’s assistance, Centennial started strategic conversations with the Urban League to form a partnership that enabled Black Executives easier access to organizations seeking new people for their leadership teams.

The Challenge of Uncontrollable Factors

Eddie Koen, President & CEO of Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio

Since this initiative began in 2017, you may be asking why we are just now announcing this partnership.  That is partly because it takes time to be intentional and partly because there were many outside factors to take into consideration.

The Urban League hired Eddie Koen, as their new CEO, in September of 2019.  We wanted to wait for Eddie to firm up his vision before moving forward. However, within days of Eddie joining the Urban League, Janet Reid kept the wheels turning to ensure this initiative did not stall.  After months of final planning with Eddie and his team, we were ready to announce our partnership in early Q2 of 2020. Enter COVID-19. After a few weeks and adjustments to the “new normal,” race-relations escalated with the death of George Floyd.

But now the time has come to announce a beautiful opportunity that has blossomed from the tough soil of challenges. We are optimistic and excited to head into the future with the Urban League as a business partner. We are honored by the trust the Urban League has placed in us. We look forward to serving our clients by helping them reach their own diversity goals.

We are grateful for all the people who played a role in this and we hope to transform businesses, one key leader at a time. Call us if you would like to join the journey. 888-366-3760

Here is another page with some helpful resources that we’ve put together and will keep adding to as we continue this journey.

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