Providing Leverage for Leaders on Diversity and Inclusion
During transformational moments of crisis or growth, Cynthia Soledad (MBA’02) helps organizations identify and address the cultural norms that have hindered them.
As co-lead of the Diversity and Inclusion Practice at Egon Zehnder, a leadership advisory firm, the daughter of Filipino parents says she developed values focused on diversity and inclusion from the time she moved from the small, majority-white town in Michigan where she was raised to the University of Chicago, where she studied anthropology.
Soledad does her job by drawing on the experiences of her early career — and wisdom gained at Darden. During one pivotal lecture, Professor Ed Freeman used the analogy of a black box to illustrate minority underrepresentation in corporate leadership. Green and blue balls were fed into a black boxo in equal numbers, but when the box was shaken, the balls that came out were skewed 80/20. “You would wonder to yourself,” Soledad says, “‘What’s happening inside that box?’ It says something about the way that we filter through who should rise to the top as leaders. We filter out the diversity of those who feed into the organization.”
At Procter & Gamble in her first position after Darden, Soledad participated in a management training program the company instituted to correct a disproportionate rate of attrition among its Asian and Asian-American employees. After eight years, Soledad returned to her hometown in Michigan to join Whirlpool, where her father had made his career. There, she oversaw a major redesign of the KitchenAid brand.
However, it wasn’t an easy homecoming. Having experienced what was possible when corporations invested resources into recruiting and retaining diverse talent, she tried to influence the culture at Whirlpool — but she lacked leverage.
When Egon Zehnder approached her about consulting, she jumped on the opportunity to have a larger impact. Now, Soledad provides the leverage for others that she once wished she had. She says that advising executives on matters of employee recruitment, integration and development is the most rewarding work she’s done yet.
She advises executives to “run toward difference.” Comfort with difference is not a moral binary, she says; it’s a skill that can be improved with practice. To avoid being that black box from Freeman’s lecture, organizations should continue to embrace the human side of work as they return to the workplace.
“Attitudinally, the way to think about diversity and inclusion work is to come with really open ears,” Soledad says. “Sometimes we don’t realize the impact we have on each other.”