McCanns trailblazing journey inspires students

McCanns trailblazing journey inspires students

Baumhart Center Senior Program Manager Emily Nordquist speaks with diversity and inclusion trailblazer Renetta McCann.

By Erin Lippert, Student Reporter

On October 28, the Baumhart Center community had the honor of engaging in discussion with diversity and inclusion champion Renetta McCann.

McCann began the conversation by sharing her number one career strategy: “When at a fork in the road, pick the most interesting one.” For McCann, those interesting forks have created a remarkable career.

McCann always had a love of persuasion and has always been interested in how people influence others. This led to her career at Leo Burnett, where she became the first African American media supervisor within her first two years at the company. She then rose to be the first African American Vice President, then the first African American Media Director, and then the first African American CEO of Starcom. With all of these “firsts,” McCann recognized her role as a trailblazer and the great responsibility that came with it. “If I’m not there to understand, define, and share what I’m learning, the opportunity for those behind me would not be possible.” She also had the added responsibility of being the first woman in these positions during a time when women were striving to be working professionals while still meeting the expectations of raising a family. “You’re not only working for yourself and your family, but for others who follow you that you may never meet.”

As she continued her career, McCann was determined to make an impact wherever she was. “You can only change the parts of the world you can touch, so focus on what’s right next to you. If we’re all doing that, it’ll spread.” Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) was the part of the world McCann touched, so that’s what she set out to change.  

D&I is a human issue. “The problem of D&I started the moment humans became bipedal. We have never solved for differences and inclusion, so the D&I struggle in society predate that struggle in business. It’s not a business problem, but a human social dynamic that comes into the workforce, and businesses have to account for it.”

So how do we fix the ways people interact with one another? To answer, McCann shares a quote from philosopher Jean Vanier- “Fear is the root of all forms of exclusion, just as trust is the root of inclusion.”

McCann applied this to the business world saying, “We have to design ways to decrease people’s fear and increase their trust to have conversations that’ll allow us to do business with each other and drive results. D&I isn’t a problem business has to solve, but rather a conversation that business needs to facilitate. If we’re going to get sustainable solutions to D&I, we have to address it at the societal level.”

In order to address D&I at the societal level, McCann believes there are three key needs: a need for leaders to help reshape culture and define new norms; a need to focus on policies and procedures because D&I often gets buried in the infrastructure, and a need to activate the community.

McCann closed the evening by reiterating that diversity and inclusion is both a function and a mindset. “Leaders need to build an army of believers at every level in every function who have a D&I mindset to reshape the norms.”