Inside the Quest for Inclusion

5 Minutes with Cynthia Bowman

As the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Bank of America, Cynthia Bowman has a simple question for clients, community partners, and employees: What do you want the power to do?

“What people want is ‘just the power to be me,’” she says. “You always want to feel like you belong, and that’s what drives me to excel in this role.”

Excelling is something Bowman knows plenty about. After serving as a senior executive at Accenture, she joined Bank of America in 2007 and climbed the ranks from serving as senior vice president of leadership development to heading up the company’s D&I strategies today. Her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. For the past three years, she has been named one of the Top Executives in Corporate Diversity by Black Enterprise magazine, and in 2017, online careers community FindSpark.com identified her as one of 30 D&I thought leaders to follow.

Bowman spoke with Diversity Woman about how Bank of America tackles inclusion and what’s next for D&I.

Diversity Woman: Bank of America was named a 2019 Catalyst Award winner. What makes your company such a supportive environment for women?
Cynthia Bowman: Diversity starts with our CEO, who sits on our Global Diversity and Inclusion Council. Our Global Women’s Conference brings together 300 leaders from around the world every year to focus on developing, retaining, and advancing women across our company. We have a Women’s Executive Development Program, which focuses on our emerging and high-potential talent. We have a Diverse Leader Sponsorship Program. We have a Next Level Leadership Program specifically for women of color.

DW: As a diversity leader, what’s a challenge you’ve faced?
CB: We’ve been trying to address issues that are going on in the world, engaging in courageous conversations. We’ve addressed religious inclusion. We’ve addressed the role of majority in diversity. We’ve addressed hate crimes. The main thing we hear from our people is they’re proud that Bank of America has opened up a dialogue on topics that matter to them.

DW: As the mother of four children, how do you maintain work-life balance?
CB: My husband’s job has similar requirements, so we have to figure out how to divide and conquer. In the past, I didn’t like asking for help, but now I’m open to help and support because I think that’s necessary. Also, for the moments that really matter for me and my family, I try to make sure that I’m present.

DW: How does Bank of America implement a workplace culture that fosters a sense of inclusion and belonging?
CB: D&I is about everyone. Yes, certain groups have traditionally been underrepresented, and we might have initiatives that help us to raise the bar in those cases, but at the end of the day, inclusion is about everyone who works at our company. I remember going to an event around Black History Month, and the audience was so incredibly diverse. That is the power of diversity and inclusion events.

DW: What are some of the trends and advances in D&I we will see in the next five years?
CB: I think you’re going to see more accountability around trying to move the needle at the top. Data will be more transparent. I also think there’s a lot of focus on embedding diversity and inclusion into key decisions over the talent life cycle. It used to just be diversity, then it was diversity and inclusion, and now we’re exploring broader concepts such as equity and belonging.

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