WOCA 2021: CEO Conversation with Thasunda Brown Duckett

The following session is from Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s fourth annual Women of Color and Their Allies event, held Oct. 21, 2021. This year’s theme was “Sustaining Workforce Positions for Women of Color.” Throughout the day, panels consisting of researchers, thought leaders and executives shared their insights and strategies for helping women of color overcome common workplace barriers and spotlight allies working to sustain their positions within the workforce.

After serving as the Chief Executive Officer of Chase Consumer Banking for four years, Thasunda Brown Duckett became the CEO of TIAA (No. 9 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021) on May 1, 2021. This elevation made her the second Black woman to currently lead a Fortune 500 firm and the fourth in the history of the Fortune 500. 

In a motivational and educational one-on-one conversation with Fair360, formerly DiversityInc CEO Carolynn Johnson, Duckett discussed the challenges she faced in her career, her strategies to overcome them, and the importance of her role as one of the few Black female CEOs in the U.S. today. Duckett and Johnson also discussed the importance of DEI work in helping to advance the careers of other Black women in the workforce today, the additional stresses and challenges these women face on a daily basis, where they see diversity and inclusion efforts in corporate America heading in the future, and much more.



Key takeaways from the session:


Duckett on developing and retaining top diverse talent

“First, you have to take a step back and say, what do we have to do to even get to the point. Then you have to keep these four things in play. One is mindset. We have to have a mindset shift. It sounds nuanced, but it is the starting spot. Do we fundamentally believe that talent is created equally, but opportunity is not? If we fundamentally believe that, then we’ll do the work. Which leads you to the second point; you have to aggregate your data. You will then say, ‘Where do I not see representation? Why do I see over 50% of women being represented at the lower rung? Why are they not ascending? Why are we seeing Black women not elevating? What is the issue?’ 

“Third, you look at your process and practices. If I have a mindset shift and aggregate the data, then what further actions can I take? To change any outcome, you have to start somewhere. So, that is a practice shift. You can’t just start with interns. You have to look at your middle rung. You have to be able to say, ‘Where do we see different groups being stuck and why? And what do we have to do? What are the tools? What are the insights? What are the different ecosystems? What are the policies that we may need to challenge ourselves in order to have forward progress?’

And finally, you have to take accountability. What gets measured gets done. We can talk about programs, but if the programs don’t lead to outcomes that can change the representation, then it’s just a soundbite.”


Duckett on what drives her

“My purpose is to inspire and make an impact. And what anchors me is my faith. What anchors me is my family, my children, my husband, my ecosystem. What anchors me is the art of possibility. That fuels me up. When I know that I have the ability, because we all have it, to be kind, to tell people, ‘I see you.’ That’s recyclable energy. I’m fueling you, and that reaction, that smile, that swag fuels me right back. I operate with this renewable energy mindset that says what you pour out, you give. And I don’t want to pour out empty calories. I don’t want to pour that out because if I’m pouring out empty calories, all I’m getting back is emptiness, which means I won’t have that energy and that fire in the belly to continue to make forward progress.”


Duckett on her hopes for the future

“The thing I would tell everybody listening today is: ‘be the change.’ Caring without action is empty. Understand that we all have the ability to be the change, regardless of our level, regardless of our title, regardless of our position. We, as individuals, all have power. And even the power of one can make lasting change.”