7 Questions with Nzinga Shaw

Name: Nzinga Shaw

Current title: Global Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer

Current organisation: Starbucks Coffee Company

Nzinga “Zing” Shaw is currently the global chief inclusion & diversity officer for Starbucks Coffee Company. She leads the inclusion & diversity (I&D) organization and concurrently serves as a member of the Americas leadership team reporting to the chief operating officer. Zing provides strategic guidance across the enterprise to promote inclusive practices in every facet of the business. She has developed a strategy to embed equity in all programmatic activities, governance and daily administration of the global retail organization. She is focused on building a foundation that will advance this strategy as a core component of Starbucks’ brand, and to drive the business across every global market. The I&D strategy extends to external customers, community partners and to every partner within the workforce. Currently, Zing is helping Starbucks achieve 100% global pay equity by working with experts to develop best practices and tools to address systemic barriers impeding equal pay for equal work. She also co-created a cutting-edge model that ties executive compensation to I&D goals/deliverables.

Prior to joining Starbucks, Zing has been at the forefront of leading organizational change through diversity. She was the first person to hold the chief diversity & inclusion officer position in the National Basketball Association, serving in that capacity for the Atlanta Hawks & State Farm Arena franchise for 5 years. She also served as senior vice president of diversity & inclusion at Edelman, the world’s largest and most profitable public relations/integrated marketing agency. While leading diversity at Edelman, Zing concurrently served as senior vice president of human resources for the southeast and southwest regions. Throughout her career, Zing has worked as a human resources practitioner across a multitude of industries including publishing, sports entertainment, public relations and retail.

Zing is a recipient of several industry awards including Sports Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 and Game Changers awards, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 40 Under 40 and Women Who Mean Business awards, The Network Journal 40 Under Forty and Top 25 Most Influential Black Women in Business awards, PR Week 40 Under 40 award, and many more. She was selected by 39th United States President - Jimmy Carter to serve a 3-year term on the Board of Councilors of The Carter Center. Zing is a graduate of Leadership Atlanta, currently serves on the Leadership Council of UNCF Seattle, and is a member of the Leadership Tomorrow (Seattle) class of 2021. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and The Links, Incorporated. Zing is an alumna of Spelman College (BA), the University of Pennsylvania (MLA) and was a study abroad scholar at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?

The most challenging thing in my role leading inclusion & diversity at a Fortune 500 organization is influencing business leaders to understand how this work should be built into the core framework of the divisions they lead, and not considered "optional" or "nice to do if there is extra time to spare."

2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I became the first global chief inclusion & diversity officer of Starbucks by establishing myself as a thought-leader in this space long before I&D was a popular career path. I started my career as a human resources practitioner and realized very quickly that cultivating a corporate culture that encourages different points of view is an important characteristic for future success, and "inclusive" can't just be a marketing tagline, but it has to be a way of life.

I guess the way I was raised, in a multicultural, lower-middle-class New York neighborhood, makes it easier for me to be an advocate for diversity. I have been surrounded by it all my life. I also am convinced that homogenized business environments are dull and fragile. They will not thrive in the future.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Well, I must say that my days are a lot more structured now than they were four years ago before I became a Mom. Having children has forced me to become more organized and plan ahead.

When I wake up, the first thing that I do is get my daughter (Lacy) and my son (Hudson) dressed. Then I take care of my personal needs like taking a shower and eating breakfast while my hubby (Keith) drives them to school. Once I'm dressed, I get situated in my home office by catching up on emails from the previous evening. Then, I'm off and running recognizing that anything can happen during the work day.

I don't have a routine work schedule because I am juggling a myriad of responsibilities which include managing direct reports, executing short and long-term projects, participating in community service activities and curating virtual speaking engagements. Once the day is finally done, I prepare dinner for my family and we eat together at the dining room table. At a minimum, I want my kids to have a routine that they can depend on which provides family time, good conversations and unconditional love.

After bath and story time for the kids, Keith and I spend time talking, catching up on what happened that day and watching reruns of Power and The Chi. We go to sleep by 10:00 pm and look forward to a new day!

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
The most important leadership lesson that I have learned is to identify every team member’s greatest strengths and amplify the best of what they each bring to the table by assigning them work in which they can excel and feel confident.

Ultimately, people will remain more motivated if they are excelling at their jobs and they will feel inspired to organically learn new things over time. It is always demoralizing when your leader gives you assignments that are not reflective of the unique attributes that you bring to the table.

5. What one book has had the most profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

"Becoming" by Michelle Obama has had the most profound impact on my leadership so far. This inspirational memoir by the former First Lady of the United States of America has prompted me to feel more empowered to share my own personal story and be an encouraging force to people on the margins who have felt voiceless for most of their lives.

Her book challenges me to be brave and help my colleagues understand why it is okay to pivot from doing business as usual. Becoming also reminds me that leadership is not a final destination, but it is an ever-evolving journey.

6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?

In a large enterprise, the only way to truly build leadership capacity is to lead by example. I always challenge myself to make sure that my audio is reflective of my video.

I think that a fundamental component of the human experience is to believe people whose actions mirror their words. Oftentimes, I talk about the power of inclusion & diversity and the reasons that we all must lean into this concept, but I also demonstrate it by my hiring practices, the courageous conversations on tough topics that I curate for big internal audiences, and by demonstrating my vulnerability when I don't know the answer by asking others for insights.

7. If you had to pick just one story, what would be the most meaningful story from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?

The most meaningful story from my time as global chief inclusion and diversity officer at Starbucks was being able to reach out to my previous employer (National Basketball Association/Atlanta Hawks) and ask two of my former colleagues (Grant Hill, Atlanta Hawks co-owner and NBA Hall of Fame; and Oris Stuart, NBA Chief People & Diversity Officer) to join me for a live, virtual conversation with thousands of Starbucks partners (employees) to discuss the national dialogue regarding racial justice and the challenges we face as a nation that continues to spark corporate organizations and individuals to use their influence to advance systemic change.

A few days prior to the dialogue, the NBA, WNBA, and MLB delayed a series of games as players stood for human rights and shined a light on the racial violence that’s far too routine in America. During this unprecedented moment, these NBA executives joined me to discuss the NBA’s bold actions and organizational alignment to use its platform for change.

I was overly grateful to share my network with my colleagues and offer best practices for the ways in which corporate organizations should be leveraging insights from one another to ultimately help influence positive change in the world.

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