Bold, Brave and Brilliant Pamela Culpepper is a Powerhouse- Blazing a Trail of Equity for Women
This is a powerful interview with one of the most inspiring and dynamic women I have had the pleasure of meeting. It will leave you feeling empowered and inspired to not only advocate for yourself but to know there are women out there who care enough to go into the trenches (corporate America) to be your voice and advocate for inclusion and equity.
Pamela Culpepper, Co-Founder of Have Her Back
After a year marked with crisis and uncertainty, it is more important than ever for companies to embrace diversity and become more inclusive. And Pamela Culpepper is on a mission to help them do just that.
Pamela is a co-founder of Have Her Back (HHB), a female-owned and operated Culture Consultancy that works with businesses to advance equity for all while driving positive business outcomes.
As a veteran HR and DEI executive with over 25 years of experience, including Chief Global D&I Officer at PepsiCo and Chief Human Resources Officer at Cboe Global Markets, Inc., Pamela is a powerhouse at understanding people, culture, and diversity.
She is passionate about helping companies create and shape authentic cultural change - taking them from good intentions to intentional action- to have a real impact on people's lives, which will benefit all stakeholders.
If there were a league of superheroes dedicated to diversity and inclusion reform in corporate America, Pamela Culpepper would be the ringleader.
Our world is going through monumental change; there could not be a more opportune moment to spotlight Pamela Culpepper. Pamela shares her mission, so many nuggets of wisdom and insight- it will undoubtedly inspire you!
You have had an accomplished and impressive career; can you share your insight on rising through the corporate ranks not only as a woman but as a black woman?
I spent more than 25 years in corporate America in four different industries, with many of those years spent focused on M&A culture integration and business transformation. I took assignments no one wanted, and with a 50/50 chance of me being successful - I took them anyway.
And as a black woman, and most often being the only woman and the only person of color in the room, being a good friend and supporter to myself was important.
You were a leader in corporate America; what made you decide to become an Entrepreneur and start your own Consultancy?
I think multiple reasons converged at once. First, I felt myself becoming apathetic about the impact of systemic racism on marginalized communities- my community.
I felt myself becoming comfortable as a co-conspirator to the systemic issues in organizations, helping leaders get out of the problems they created.
And I think this inflection point made me more thoughtful about how broadly I could leverage my HR and DEI expertise. I was passionate about helping to create the right environment for women and for people of color.
What has been the biggest challenge with starting your own business, and what lesson did you learn?
Some of the challenges are the same for any startup:
Building trust and credibility with clients on untested platforms and models.
Getting clients to shift their mindsets from "costs" to "making investments" so that funding can be prioritized.
And getting paid in a timely fashion! I don't think large organizations think about the impact of delayed payments to a startup or small business.
Some of the challenges and unintended consequences unique to women-owned businesses:
Credibility and championship are hard-won and hard to come by - men aren't bringing us into client spaces as often as women are.
Our champions don't always have the influence in their organizations that propels this work forward.
The lesson: We have a proprietary tool called "the ARC of Authenticity," and BRAVE companies allow us to measure to what extent they are talking the talk, walking the walk, and ultimately whether their actions are perceived by their employees as authentic.
You really do have to be brave and open to what we are bringing. Every day we learn new lessons about diverse appetites for hearing the truth.
Our gift is that we create a safe space for people to tell their truth. But the challenge with that is that we aren't making up what we hear, and we must share it as intended by the communicator. It can sometimes be hard to hear, and the messenger (HHB) IS the nearest target.
Companies must move beyond expressions of solidarity to audacious plans of action. We say audacious because it's going to take a collective bravery to drive authentic change.
- Have Her Back
Speaking of challenges, The Sharing Collective wrote an article in which we shared a startling new report that says more women than ever are leaving the workforce altogether. And, "Corporate America is at a crossroads- the choices companies make today will have consequences on gender equality for decades to come. All the progress we've seen over the past five years would be erased."
How does that make you feel? What do you think that will do to the corporate landscape going forward?
It frustrates me that we either can't see or refuse to see long-term outcomes from short-term decisions.
This last year has busted many of the myths regarding working moms and caregivers being productive working from home.
I think we will need to re-start the clock after losing ground with communities of people (women) who will be less patient with organizations that are slow to do the right thing because there are options now.
What can women do if they feel unsupported or undervalued?
Our biggest challenge is knowing when to let go and when to start planning our exit.
We are so busy trying to prove that we deserve to be in a role or be promoted that we don't hold organizations to earning the right to keep us.
Our loyalty and commitment are often out of proportion with the org's loyalty and commitment to us.
A colleague gave me a great way to look at my loyalty to an organization, and that's in two-week increments….every two weeks, we settle up - I've given you my best, and you (organization) have given me your best (value for my contribution = pay + respect). Then, every two weeks, we start over…
We owe it to ourselves to broaden our skills and capabilities so that we increase our options.
And lastly, we have to manage our fear and the noise in our heads - give ourselves the advice we would give a good friend…girl, you should leave him!
I know many women who have felt 'pushed out' or 'offered' early retirement in their 50s; what are your thoughts on ageism in the workforce? And is there anything that women can or should do?
It's hard because you can't prove that it's happening. But first, there's a mindset that should take hold.
We always have a choice. And we have the right to refuse environments that don't appreciate us.
I think it is important to note that some organizations value seasoning over youth, so build relationships and be attuned to opportunities.
The tragedy is that we are often caught off guard by decisions that affect us and are not prepared with options when those decisions are made.
So, what can we do? Control the narrative - you know when an organization is no longer feeling you….Make The First Move.
You've said there's a difference between action and intention when it comes to companies trying to do the right thing. What needs to be done to move from intention to action?
I think we do our best work when an Executive White Male feels safe enough to admit that he doesn't know what to do next. Or when he realizes that the way they've handled things in the past lacked knowledge and empathy when it came to women and people of color and want to mobilize themselves and their organization to re-write the rules.
With the many challenges of the last year, it is more important than ever to have a company like HHB advocating for women in the workforce. How or what is HHB doing to have a greater impact on more women and organizations?
The game changes when the rules do.
When we think about bringing the best out of our talent, we must think about the diversity of needs and how meeting these needs increases the probability of business success.
Supporting the needs of women in the workplace does not make them less qualified, less ready, less promotable, or less committed.
I don't want to be treated equally against standards created by men for men.
I want an environment that supports what makes me a woman, a mother, a black American, and my most effective, most productive, and successful self.
You started your company in 2019; less than a year later, Covid hit. How did that impact your business?
It greatly affected our business- we were riding on a high when Covid hit, and then, everything stopped. Some of our clients are in the hospitality and tech industry, and they were severely affected.
HHB was created on a gender platform- to advance equity for women, but as things unfolded last year, we pivoted.
Organizations were coming to us with internal conflict over the social unrest and didn't know what to say or how to respond. They were asking what they should be doing for the marginalized communities that make up their workforce and the communities they serve. They didn't know how or where to start.
We offered them options- an opportunity for organizations to close the gap between who they said they were and who their employees or the public thought they were.
We were able to step into that light as fiercely as we would have if it were gender equity by itself.
How can women support HHB?
Spread the word. Get to know us so you can speak authentically about us and champion our work. We welcome the opportunity to build networks. Get us in touch with an organization that you think could benefit from our work.
What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs?
Build the network before you need it.
Understand (and address) your business competency gaps while building your other skills.
Seek mentorship and guidance from those in your network who have done it (whatever the "it" is).
What has been your greatest achievement thus far?
Being in control of my own narrative. And raising a strong, confident, productive young adult.
Who or What has been your biggest inspiration?
I am inspired by the work we are doing- inspired by those who are courageously holding themselves and their organizations accountable and who are not hesitating to pick a side.
I am inspired by those who have left room in their lifelong held frames of reference to entertain painful realities that they may not have created but by default have helped keep alive and now sincerely want to change.
How do you balance work/ life?
I take dance breaks (in between meetings).
I manage my calendar for frequent breaks.
And I have a peaceful ritual at bedtime.
What advice would you give your 25-year-old self?
Appreciate all outcomes even when your "leap" doesn't work out. Try hard enough to fail and enjoy the learnings.
Who are the Five people- living or dead- you would invite to your dream dinner party?
Jordan Culpepper (son)
Ed Tilly (old boss)
Paula Jones (good friend)
What is your motto?
Caroline Dettman, Erin Gallagher, and Pamela Culpepper, Founders of Have Her Back
Women in leadership roles were (and remain) few and far between. The reality and frustration around unequal pay was building and society agreed: we needed change. That’s when Have Her Back was born. What started as a mission quickly evolved into our life’s work: help companies evolve authentically. Consumers seek equality, diversity and inclusion in the brands they support. So do the employees who work for them. Efforts to deliver both cannot be mutually exclusive. We help companies drive cultural change inside and out.
Get in touch with Have Her Back.