Ep. 114: Diversity in the C-Suite

with Shellye Archambeau, Deb Telman, & Fawn Lopez

May 24, 2023


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Shellye Archambeau, Deb Telman, & Fawn Lopez

Welcome to this special mash-up episode, where Shellye Archambeau, Former CEO, MetricStream, Advisor & Author, Deborah H. Telman, Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs & General Counsel, Gilead Sciences, Inc., and Fawn Lopez Publisher Emeritus, Modern Healthcare inspire listeners to embrace diversity, work with intention and integrity, and strive for success in their professional journeys.


“Allies are important. But we also need people to be advocates.” - Deb Telman

Shellye Archambeau, Deb Telman, & Fawn Lopez Tweet



Today we have a special mash-up conversation about diversity in the C-suite. Join us as we explore the inspiring journeys of Shellye Archambeau, Former CEO, MetricStream, Advisor & Author, Deborah H. Telman, Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs & General Counsel, Gilead Sciences, Inc., and Fawn Lopez Publisher Emeritus, Modern Healthcare.

Let’s hear from Shellye Archambeau first:

Shellye Archambeau: Oh, goodness, my life was one of a lot of challenges. My brother didn’t have a college degree. And he had four children. My parents had four kids in five years, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, I have rights. And so to support his family, he was always taking on new opportunities. So we moved, I lived in seven different states before I got to high school. So you’re always right. So you’re always the new kid on the block. And oh, by the way, this happens to be in the 60s and early 70s. And that was the time when a lot was going on civil rights wise. And for as many people that felt there should be civil rights to it just as many that didn’t. And they were, frankly, very willing and open to let a little black girl know that she wasn’t welcome and wasn’t wanted. I was bullied, I was abused. I was beat up by kids in my class. I mean, it was just not, it was not good. So that’s why I realized very early in life that the odds just start in my favorite. So if I want anything out of life, I’m going to have to figure out how I improve the odds to actually get it. I craved respect. I just wanted people to respect me because I wasn’t getting respect And what I found is when I actually helped people, they then got to know me as a person. And they started to respect me. So I learned early that helping was actually a good thing. So it offered to help people, then I then I figured out that I was really good at organizing and pulling things together. And people actually respected that, too. So I was like, okay, so by the time I got to high school, I was joining all kinds of clubs and organizations. But more than that, I was leading them. I was president, this vice president of that treasurer of this, you know, I took positions. And again, it was all about trying to be respect and show that I’m capable in all of that. And that’s really what sparked the leadership. I personally didn’t recognize it from the beginning. But I do feel I do feel that when people, you know, ask you, or ask me, shell, you know, what are your superpowers? So we talk about strength. I believe my strengths are two things really, which is one, courage, and to discipline. So it’s the courage to take risks, and the courage to go after things when you’re not comfortable. And then it’s a discipline that’s required to actually follow through on the plan, you know, a lot of people set goals scary, I find and, and some people actually take the time to write down a plan, you know, right, here’s my goal, here’s my plan. But very few people make decisions every day, consistent with that plan. And that’s where I believe the power is. And that’s really where my power came from. Because I took the time to build a plan, you know, figure out what was required to achieve the goal, make the plan, and then every day it was like, Alright, this is the plan. So what’s the solution to support the plan? And that way, the odds just improved. Because when opportunities came along, I was ready to go after him. I do think it’s important that boards have kind of a diverse group. So it doesn’t always mean it’ll be the exact same fit. But I do think it’s important that you know, your role. One of the questions I always ask when I’m interviewing for a board is an is to the CEO, or to the lead director or chairman is, you know, what role do you want me to play? Why do you want me on the board, so that I know what my lane is, you know, I tell people stay in your lane boards, they want to know what you know, they don’t want to know what you think. And what I mean by that is, we all have ideas. I mean, we’re smart people, right, we’re sitting on the oil ideas, but the board is has a very finite amount of time to get accomplished what they need to get accomplished. So just because I happen to be an expert in maybe engineering and cybersecurity, whatever, but you know, I have ideas for marketing, they probably don’t want to hear my marketing ideas. Because that’s just based upon gut, right. It’s not based upon experience and background, etc. So you know, stay in your lane, make sure that you are being vocal in those areas in which you bring real expertise and real experience, versus just opining on everything because you have opinions. And that’s what I mean by they want to know what you know, versus just what you think. So I completely agree with that.

Having experienced the challenges of being the only woman or person of color in many settings, Deb Telman emphasizes the importance of embracing one’s uniqueness and contributing their value without hesitation.Let’s hear from her next.

Deb Telman: I have a lot of confidence in who I am in my skill sets. I will say because as you can imagine, in many settings, I’m the only one I’m the only woman I’m the only person of color I’m only black person. So when you’re the only one you have to start being really comfortable speaking your truth otherwise some skills that you should be bringing to the table, the value you can bring will not be be present because you’re holding back. So I have always been comfortable. Because I had to, I didn’t have a choice. I mean, when I started on Wall Street, there were very few women, senior leaders, working at investment banks, right there was this old white male culture, unfortunately, probably still exist to a certain extent today, with the Wall Street banks, but I have to be really comfortable in that space. And so I’ve kind of taken that, and use that, that confidence in myself over and over again. Yeah, no, that’s a great question, Julie. And it all depends on the culture, I always think it’s always helpful to collaborate, to find like minded individuals who believe, like you believe, and quite frankly, that could be white males. That could be other women, other people of color. I think when you step outside of the room and have one on one conversations, you can build a relationship that maybe he’s not there. So when you’re speaking up, or are in a room when they’re, you know, difficult discussions happening, that there’s an echo for you in those discussions. Because I agree, it’s really hard when it’s only one person speaking up. So I’ve discovered and found over the years, you need to find people who also have a view similar to yours. And that’s through building relationships, that’s being in a situation where you can have coffee and lunch, and really get to know people so that you can really collaborate and bring the best value to your company or situation. Oh, yeah, I guess equity, health equity. It’s really important to pivot into your current position at Gilead I would say one of the reasons I joined Gilead Yeah, is that we have particular focus on advancing health and black equity. We have a VP in our organization that has that title. And he’s focused on removing those those stigmas. So I was happy to any reports to the Public Affairs organization. And I think that’s a novel approach to have someone at that level, who’s focused on that. So I’m excited for what we’ve done structurally. But I also a one of the co sponsors for that one of the black resource employee resource groups. And I take that seriously in terms of giving back and trying to be a mentor, and quite frankly, an advocate. That’s, that’s what we really need. We need allies allies are important. But we also need people to be advocates, when they’re sitting in rooms and making sure there’s opportunities for for women, and for people of color to have a chance to present and to, you know, show the value that they’re bringing in the organization. So I look at that, as you know, one of my key responsibilities that I can help foster that, and be be that person that can mentor and advocate for women and people of color in the organization. Sometimes we count ourselves out. And we say, Oh, we don’t have the skill set, or they’re not going to select me, because I haven’t done this, I haven’t done that, I think you have to give yourself no one the permission to say, I do have the skill set because of these experiences. Alright, and know how to package that. I will say that’s important to know how to put that all together to show that you’re going to add value to a board. So yes, I am on a public board. And the the way that happened was through relationships. So all those discussions and in engagements you have for your career, ultimately pay off. Maybe not at the time you’re you’re in those relationships, but later on because you keep building out people who know you who know of your your work ethics, your intellectual skill, whatever expertise you have. And then when there’s an opportunity, you start calling people and say, Hey, I’m now interested in being on a public board. Give me your thoughts around that. So I think you have to engage and use and leverage those relationships. Hopefully you have. Because those there are opportunities out there. And I think there are a lot of organizations that you could use that can help build the skills. So one of the things I did is like, okay, as I started thinking about, you know, being on a public board, I tried to figure out what were those skills that I needed to amplify, for me to be on the public boards, and then I did additional training and certifications and their, their organization, the National Association of Corporate Directors, that can help you with that. If you don’t have those skills, I think you’ve got to invest. And sometimes that means personally investing to, to make sure that you’re going to be an attractive candidate, when those opportunities are available. But then you also have to go out and seek those opportunities.

Last but not least, let’s hear Fawn Lopez’s inspiring story and learn valuable lessons on achieving success and fostering diversity in the corporate world.

Fawn Lopez: So you know, I haven’t always been the publisher emeritus of modern healthcare. So almost 48 years ago, I was stranded at a refugee camp at Camp Pendleton, California, outside of in San Diego. I was with eight family members. None of us spoke English. We were poor. We had to embrace a new culture, and a radically different family dynamic. My father was a colonel in the South Vietnamese Army. And as the war drew to a to a close, he decided to risk his own life and the lives of his wife, and six children and their father to six freedom in the United States. Our journey took us from Saigon, to Guam, to Camp Pendleton. And from there it was on to Kansas City, where we took more steps to fulfill my Father’s plan for a better future in America. All of us, even kids, children. Look for work. My mother was a seamstress never worked before in her life. My father was a janitor, Colonel, former colonel, and he worked two jobs to support the family. My parents lived the gospel of hard work, while the kids build a foundation for our future through education. So it was with my family, the generosity of the American people. And what I’m That gave us the strength, gave my family the strength, and will it needed to build a new life in America. So we were focused and determined not to squander the opportunity that we risked our lives to fulfill. And it was about the future. And a way to a better future was through education. So my father used to say, you know, the money will come and grow. But your education, and your integrity will be with you forever. It will give you the confidence and the freedom to do things that you might otherwise not even act or consider. So it’s been that, for me, that has driven me and it’s was a driving force for all that. Everything that I’ve done since then. And you know, I’ve had to navigate healthcare, I came to modern healthcare, actually didn’t want to go to health care, I was recruited to water and health care. When I was with the same company, it was our modern healthcare is owned by a very successful b2b media company. And I was with a different brand, when I was being recruited to modern healthcare, didn’t want to go to healthcare, I didn’t want to leave where I was. Because I loved my work, we were having all kinds of, you know, we were breaking all kinds of records. And, but it took it took seven months after I continued repeatedly turned the job down. Seven months later, with, you know, pressure from leadership, and a sense of obligation and responsibility. I took the job. At the time, modern healthcare was a turnaround. And it was a turnaround situation that I was hired, to, to do to fix and didn’t have any, I didn’t plan to stay longer than two years. After I got there, six months later, there was no way I was gonna leave, because I loved the work. I loved the mission of not only the industry, the healthcare industry, but also the mission of modern healthcare, which is, you know, to help healthcare executives and organizations be more successful by providing the good news information and insights that they that they need to be successful. So, yes, I have been there. Since I was at modern healthcare, I joined modern healthcare in October of 2020, no 22,001 and became the publisher in 2005. And retired at the end of 2022. So for me, it was about, you know, I had to overcome a lot to get to where I was today. And I wanted to make sure that other people if I could help it at all that to shorten or to help them to not have to go through some of the challenges or obstacles that I faced as a as a woman, as a minority in this very when I joined 22 years ago, very male dominated and white industry. My father always told us, you know, a way out of poverty was through education, and hard work. So, andyou have to always look for opportunities. They just don’t, and sometimes they come to you and you’re not, you’re not aware of it, always look for ways to contribute to do more, work hard, be smart, be opportunistic, but be with a sense of purposeand giving in mind and look for people that will support you, that will champion you will, willpromote you will help you. We we don’t do this alone, build a community of support when I wasyounger than actually I still do have it. I created my own personal board of directors. And theyinclude my family members, friends, mentors, former bosses, colleagues, and different from different paths, different, you know, industries, different roles in their professional career. So that I could ask and tap them for advice, feedback. And never afraid to ask for All right, if you can’t be too proud, and you don’t know everything, so I will be the first to say, I don’t know, everything I will ask and be curious. And an advice I would give myself, my younger self is not to worry too much. I, there are things you can’t control, there are things that are out of your control. And, and that you can’t save everyone. You know, people have to do it for themselves. You give them the opportunity, you give them the platform, but they have to take it, they have to make it happen. So those are some of the things that I would say to myself. You know, and for me working hard was not was was just a part of my life, what I do. And I figured it out why I didn’t mind it. It was because I loved what I did. I saw wasn’t work. I was getting a lot more from it, than I was giving back to it. So. So if you really are purposeful, if you’re intentional, if you’re passionate about what you do. Work is a joy. It’s a privilege to get to do what we do.

As we conclude this episode, we are reminded of the incredible strength and dedication demonstrated by leaders from diverse backgrounds. By fostering diversity and inclusion in the C-suite, we can unleash the untapped potential of our organizations and pave the way for a more promising and equitable future.

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