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Wells Fargo: “Gayness” and Leadership, Inclusiveness for Real

June 21st, 2012 · 3 Comments · Talents, Innovators

JoannaClarkGuest post by Joanna Clark

The Diverse Leaders Program : Late this spring I was nominated and accepted to attend the Diverse Leaders Program with my new company Wells Fargo.  I joined Wells Fargo after a 15-year career at a similarly large multi-national company holding various leadership roles within its Talent Acquisition organization.  What makes this story of a Diversity program unique is that in addition to being singled out for my potential as a leader, the reason for my selection was not so clear to me.  I was not selected as a woman who has been climbing the proverbial ladder in a heavily female recruiting profession led predominantly by men, nor because my mother, who was born in Mexico, immigrated here as a child in search for the American Dream for her family.  I was selected for neither of these reasons although they would both be true.  I was selected instead as a self-identified lesbian and a high potential leader to be given additional training to improve my skills as a manager and leader for the betterment of myself, my team members, my customers and our local communities.  I admit, upon learning about my selection, I could not imagine what my “gayness” could possibly have to do with my leadership skills but I intended to find out.

The competitive advantage of real inclusiveness: I arrived to the company boardroom the first morning; I was greeted by the fine facilitators at Jennifer Brown Consulting.  It was clear in meeting my new cohorts we were all stepping in the room as skeptics and slightly confused as we all talked about it coffee in hand.  As things got underway, I found myself in a room full of accomplished bankers, activists, community leaders and things started as most corporate training sessions do… the dreaded introductions.   I found myself with my normal reaction to this process… trying to suppress my eyes from rolling but shortly after it started I became riveted by the stories of the people in the room and how this for the first time seemed different.  Although most of these people looked, talked and in fact were different from me, for the first time in my professional career, there was a common theme.  We then proceeded through the week using assessments and concepts to better understand our styles of leadership.  We also openly talked about how we all felt driven to succeed so no one could say that if we failed it was because of our “gayness”… I remember thinking I did not realize others felt that way too.  We went on to discover our leadership skills throughout the week and I was surprised as to how much I was getting from this experience.

After three jammed packed days we ‘graduated’ and Jennifer Brown gave us our last word… our last turn at the floor to tell the class whatever we wanted.  In preparing my last word was when I finally found the answer to my question, “what does my gayness have to do with my leadership style?”  So I delivered my answer to my 42 new friends…. The answer was nothing…  My “gayness” was not the point when dealing with who I am as a leader, manager or team member at Wells Fargo.  Instead what I found was that this program was something entirely different.  Instead it was about inclusion, real inclusion.  Inclusion is a word, I admit I thought was the latest installment of corporate jargon to keep people on their toes and I really never understood it.  I have always understood why having a mix of different people in a workforce would be good to mirror the communities we worked in but to be truly included (every part of me) by a company, for the first time, was something I did not expect nor could I anticipate the impact.    Diversity and inclusiveness is something Wells considers a competitive advantage, and with their investment in my cohorts and myself I would say they are right.  They went beyond tolerating us and teaching us what they want us to know and instead asked us to be the best leaders we could be and bring all of us to work knowing that would make us better as a company if all 265,000 team members did that.  I’d say I agree!

Note: Joanna Clark, Recruiting Manager for Wells Fargo indicates the following: “Opinions are my own.”

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Moya Watson // Jun 21, 2012 at 11:24 am

    All I ever knew about “inclusion” I learned at my daughter’s grade school, Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy. There, my daughter, who has many resources and abilities at her disposal, is arm-in-arm with those who perhaps only by accident at birth have greater challenges to overcome in life, and they work side-by-side. I learned how important this inclusion is — and how difficult it often is to achieve. So transformative when the corporate world catches up to today’s challenges faced by grade schoolers.

  • 2 Jennifer Brown // Jun 21, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Joanne, thanks for sharing your experience, and congratulations on being chosen to participate in this program. JBC is honored to have the privilege of designing and delivering this program at Wells Fargo, and we’ve been receiving an unbelievable amount of positive feedback about how it’s changed.

    Kudos to Wells Fargo for having the foresight to make this investment in its LGBT talent. We of course believe it will pay off exponentially, and hope more programs like this will exist in corporate America in the future.

  • 3 Leanne Pittsford // Sep 26, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Joanne, great article. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am on the board of StartOut, an organization focused on supporting gay entrepreneurs. I also run a mentoring program for lesbian entrepreneurs and we’re currently looking for mentors. Please think of us if you know any seasoned lesbian entrepreneurs, investors or senior level executives who would be interested in mentoring. You can learn more at

    Jennifer, So great to randomly stubble upon an article that allowed me to learn more about the amazing work you do.

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