Pamela McElvane, of Beverly, has long been on the frontline of the diversity and inclusion movement advocating to increase the number of people of color working at all levels of corporate America, including securing them seats on the boards of the world’s largest companies.
McElvane, who launched what has now become Diversity MBA, has been fighting the good fight for diversity and inclusion for nearly three decades. Sometimes the engagement is quietly behind the scenes in meetings with CEOs and top executives. But most of her engagement has been on public display at high-level retreats, regional summits, symposiums and forums, and what has become one of the most prominent and high profiled events for corporations striving for a diverse environment, the annual conference and gala.
Now that diversity and inclusion is in the spotlight following the civil unrest that has occurred in the U.S., McElvane said, companies want her at the table to help them navigate through this new normal, a place that even the leaders of Fortune 500 corporations are not quite sure where it begins or ends. This awakening and recognition of McElvane comes just in time for Diversity MBAs’ two-day conference, which is also making history, because it will be virtual, and it will attract its largest attendance.
More than 5,000 people have registered for the 14th Annual National Business Leaders Virtual Conference & Awards Gala, entitled “Leading in a Changing World,” which takes place on Sept. 17-18.
McElvane said as many as 10,000 executives and business students could register for the event.
She is thrilled with the response.
“They see us out there, and they see we have been doing the work around benchmarking research and data for a long time,” she said. “We have the data, and because we have the data and the insights, companies are saying, ‘OK, Pam, can you help us?’”
Since the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer planted his knee on his neck for about nine minutes one evening in late May, corporate America has been in a learning, generous and caring mode. The social unrest started in Minnesota, but it spread across the globe like a virus, bringing most business in the U.S. to a standstill. Some of the most powerful leaders in business finally got the message. Maybe eradicating racism and discrimination in the work place and community, maybe having honest discussions about race, maybe addressing income inequality, which dates back to slavery, maybe giving people of color access to capital and all the advantages that have allowed the average income of whites to be ten times higher than Blacks, is in the best interest of their companies and our nation. Following the protests and riots, CEOs from Facebook, General Motors to Merck, are saying the right things about diversity and inclusion and they are backing their positions with dollars.
“I am on back to back phone calls and we are kicking out the proposals,” said McElvane, who operates from Roseland. “People are actually calling me and sending us proposals for other people. They are asking us, “Do you guys do courageous conversations? And we say, yes! Then, we immediately put products and services together, and we work closely with the organization’s training arm. I am doing roundtables and virtual conferences across industries.”
McElvane, who hails from Northern California and earned her master’s of business administration degree in finance and international marketing from the University of California at Berkeley, was an executive in the insurance industry before she ventured into consulting focusing on diversity and inclusion and career advancement.
“Being the only woman in many meetings, I was often called upon to mentor and lead advocacy efforts,” she said.
From the onset, she knew her work had to be broader to accommodate America’s changing racial landscape, and that is what led her to focus on all executives of color as well as veterans, the physically disabled and the LGBTQ community.
“It was the natural evolution of the work we are doing around data and insights,” McElvane said. “It has been a journey of learning. We have focused on gaining assets that collectively provide a direction and support for the leaders in corporate America. It is a good thing that I had the vision to expand, because that is the direction the world is headed.”
The speaking and touring season for McElvane begins shortly after the annual conference. At the nation’s top universities and largest firms, she will lend her expertise globally and continuously support the advancement of women. And this time, she hopes to leave some of her wisdom and insights behind, and that will be her first book about her work, and the journey of opening doors for people of color in corporate America.
“After my sessions, students and executives always come up to me and ask, ‘Do you have a book?’” McElvane said. “I always respond that one is in the works. Well, that work is almost completed, and I am so excited that I am thinking of doing a series of books. I will keep writing until my work is no longer needed inside corporate America.”