Often, those who truly excel in their careers have strong synergy between their personal and professional lives. Shelly McNamara, Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer at Procter & Gamble (P&G), is a great example. In addition to a career focused on HR, including diversity and inclusion (D&I), McNamara has leveraged her own experiences as author of the book No Blanks, No Pauses – A Path to Loving Self and Others, which was released earlier this year.

Discovering a Personal Passion for OD

McNamara graduated from the University of Michigan in 1985 with a BA in Organization Behavior and was hired by P&G in the sales organization that June. “My world changed when I discovered the field of organization development,” says McNamara. “At Michigan, I took an organizational psychology class, and the professor was outstanding.” McNamara recalls that the first description of organization development (OD) she read was something like “a values-based approach to helping individuals, teams, and organizations transform.” She says, “I recall reading that definition out loud and realizing that’s the work I want to do—and that’s who I want to be.”

McNamara’s studies didn’t end with her undergraduate degree. In 1991, she received an MS in OD from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. It was during her master’s degree studies that McNamara said she learned the fundamentals of change management and gained a foundation that prepared her to be a transformative leader. McNamara continued working at P&G while completing her graduate degree, attending class on weekends and in the evenings. “It was extremely valuable to me to be working at a large corporation while deeply immersing myself in the study of transformation and change,” she reflects. “This was particularly true, because my company was traversing through a range of organization changes. My learning accelerated by combining theory and practical experience.”

Pursuing a Career in HR

Some people make brief pit stops in the HR function over the course of their careers. Others dedicate their professional lives to the business of managing a company’s most valuable asset. McNamara has spent much of the past 30 years as an HR professional. Over those many years, she has developed into a generalist, with experience in employee relations, talent management, compensation, organization design, and transition.

“I have worked side by side with a range of leaders and executives to help shape organization strategy and action plans that enabled and expanded business and employee growth,” McNamara says. “I have also developed deep mastery as a transformational change leader. I have led numerous change efforts in the area of talent transformation.”

Filling the Diversity Pipeline

Students of D&I are likely familiar with what is often referred to as the “pipeline theory,” which argues that companies don’t see more diverse talent in key leadership positions because there isn’t enough diversity further down the organizational hierarchy. Companies that promote from within would therefore be limited in their executive diversity goals by the level of diversity at the junior levels of the organization.

The pipeline theory is controversial to the extent it’s used as an excuse or a cop-out by companies explaining away a lack of diversity as something outside their control. But it is certainly true that companies that make the effort to develop an organic pipeline of diverse talent through recruiting efforts, mentorships, and other programs are generally more successful in their broader diversity goals. In other words, companies that have a pipeline problem generally have the power to do something about it.

McNamara has worked hard to ensure the diversity pipeline at P&G is an asset and not a liability. “I have learned over the years that it’s critical to build an outstanding and diverse pipeline of talent for long term business success,” she says. “I have learned that intentionally building a diverse talent pool is one of the keys to being outstanding. Diversity brings unique ways to solve problems and drive innovation. Diverse thinking and people bring multiple viewpoints and life experiences to the problems and the possibilities.” 

McNamara says she has also led transformation in the space of diversity, equality, and inclusion. “My focus in the past five years has been on shifting our talent systems to support the sourcing, development, and advancement of our broad and diverse talent pool at P&G,” she says. “These systems were built long ago and require transformational change to get the base system to deliver diverse talent at every level in the company.”

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, McNamara says she has helped drive a range of changes across P&G to ensure a more welcoming and supportive culture. She has shared her own story as an employee, a wife, a mother, and a senior executive. And, she says, “I have engaged employees and leaders around the world to leverage my personal story as a means of opening hearts and minds—as a tool to shine a light on the barriers for our community and LGBTQ+ employees to be fully embraced and supported for who we are (not in spite of who we are).”

The work has been fulfilling, McNamara says. Today, P&G has more than 5,000 employees from more than 40 countries connected to its employee resource groups, including allies and employees who identify as LGBTQ+.

Leveraging Diversity for Global Business

Savvy businesses understand that D&I isn’t just a buzzword. In an increasingly diverse America and an increasingly global economy, it’s essential to have corporate talent that reflects the lived experiences of the diverse markets companies cater to. “Our Equality & Inclusion Strategy is a core part of our strategy,” says McNamara. “We seek to reflect the billions of consumers we serve. Reflecting this diversity in our talent base enables us to solve problems, open up possibilities, and drive innovation faster. We believe a better world is one where everyone thrives, business grows, and communities prosper. Our commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion is longstanding. We have a holistic strategy that is integrated into how we do business each day. We seek to make a meaningful impact; for our employees, with our brands, through our partners, and in our communities.”

As the chief equality and inclusion officer at P&G, McNamara says she has discovered a role that leverages both her personal and her professional journey. She’s a great example of someone who has achieved success in her professional life, in part due to the close synergies with her professional and personal passions.

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