Building Bridges at Prudential

5 Minutes with Michele C. Meyer-Shipp

Michele C. Meyer-Shipp, vice president and chief diversity officer at Prudential Financial, came to the position after 17 years as an employment lawyer, litigator, and general counsel. She talked with Diversity Woman about her priorities and challenges at the 49,000-employee global company.

22.FiveMInutesDiversity Woman: How has your legal background helped you in your role as a diversity leader?

Michele C. Meyer-Shipp: For 17 years, I was able to see the results of unconscious bias, miscommunication, and lack of cultural understanding. [I was] watching cases get to the courthouse steps and settle, and watching managers think, “Wow, I really didn’t understand that person.” It made me realize there was a lot that could be done to raise awareness and give managers the skills they needed to be inclusive leaders. Those insights help me in my job every day.

DW: You held a diversity role elsewhere that was ultimately eliminated. How did that experience affect you?

MMS: It made me realize what it felt like to be cast aside. It gave me greater sensitivity. When people are building teams or offering stretch assignments, I am very cognizant of asking, “Who is not at the table? Who have you left out?” I’m able to remind people that we’re talking about human beings and their lives.

DW: What have been your main goals as CDO at Prudential?

MMS: To serve as the consultant, subject matter expert, and partner with the business leaders, driving our diversity and inclusion strategy across the entire enterprise. Someone may come to me and say, “We are recruiting talent in a specific field, and we can’t find any women.” I’m able to tap into my networks to help them cast a wider net. If someone says, “Some of our leaders aren’t buying into our D&I strategy,” I can go to the business leaders and talk to them about the business case and why this matters.

DW: What have been some challenges to creating a more inclusive workplace?

MMS: Every now and again, with a large organization, the messaging around D&I gets stuck in the middle. We refer to it as “middle manager freeze.” Your senior leaders get it, and the grassroots gets it. But engaging middle managers is tough—they are so busy and have so many deliverables.

The second-biggest challenge is unconscious bias. You can have policies and practices
in place, but if there is unconscious bias permeating an organization, they’re not going to work. So we work on raising awareness. We help people understand that if you have a brain, you have a bias. It’s OK—it’s not a bad word. We teach skills to manage that bias.

DW: You come from a military family. What are some veterans’ initiatives you’re especially proud of?

MMS: In our vet talent work study program, we engage people transitioning out of the military into an internship. Over the last year, we’ve been able to hire more than 90 people from that program.

We expanded the program to include military spouses in our El Paso office. If an active military spouse gets relocated, the nonactive spouse can continue to work for Prudential from any location. I’m really excited about that one. We started it just last year.

DW: With three teenagers at home, what’s your secret to maintaining work-life balance?

MMS: I’ve accepted the fact that I’m going to mess up something, either at work or at home. And I’ve had to learn to say no. I love to please everyone, but I’ve had to really prioritize how and when to say no.

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