One of the most compelling, uplifting memoirs is now a movie. Steve Pemberton’s journey – from a horrific foster care experience, to Boston College graduate, to the first-ever chief diversity officer position at an internet company, to his role as the CHRO at Globoforce – brings to light the power of perseverance and the lifeblood of community.
“A Chance in the World,” Steve’s personal story, premieres on May 30 in New York City and will be simulcast in 800 theaters nationwide. A major book drive is under way to demonstrate the importance of literacy.
Indeed, it is Steve’s love of books that provided companionship during his time living in foster care. Steve’s triumph – emotionally chronicled in his memoir – demonstrates the value he places on a sense of community and inclusion. From Claire Levin, who inspired his love of reading through her gift of books; to the generosity of New Bedford High teacher John Sykes, who took in Steve and helped remove him from an abusive foster care situation; to Ruby Dottin, whose belief in Steve’s academic ability led him to Boston College, it was human compassion and outreach that gave Steve the sense of community and belonging to guide him to the man he is today.
Like the rabbits in “Watership Down,” one of Steve’s favorite books, he was always an optimist, always believing he would find his family, his calling, that he would see a sunrise from a place he called home despite his circumstances.
Steve has a warrior's heart whose blood flows through it from his secret weapon – his passion for books. He mentally battled adversity by creating an alternate vision of all the labels used to describe him during his childhood. Books helped develop this quiet force of nature, providing a North Star as a beacon of confidence that high school and college graduation were a reality – and indeed they were.
Steve has positively impacted so many people in his career, not just through his story but with how he thinks and lives. This was clear to me during one of my many conversations with Steve when Monster, the online recruitment giant, acquired his company called College Link in 2005.
At the time, I was overseeing the build of Monster’s first-ever diversity and inclusion content channel, with a goal of educating job seekers, hiring managers, and recruiters on diversity hiring best practices. I asked Steve to lunch to get his input on how to approach this strategic challenge.
When asking Steve how we should refer to different ethnicities and age groups – blacks or African-Americans – older workers or seasoned workers, he scoffed and said, “We’ll know that we’ve experienced real change when diversity is no longer mentioned as diversity – when we don’t see someone as black or white, older or younger, male or female – when we view each other as humans.”
Steve, looking back on this conversation, was referring to unconscious bias and how it is so deeply embedded in our culture through labels and preconceived perception.
At the time, I did not yet know Steve’s story – his incredible perseverance and emotional journey through foster care while relentlessly pursuing his true home. But it’s clear to me now – seeing how Steve experienced firsthand the power of inclusion, belonging, and gratitude – a collective warm embrace from the personal heroes in his life who gave him a chance in the world.
Not long after our lunch, Steve was promoted to chief diversity officer at Monster, a first for an internet company. He eventually moved on to become the first chief diversity officer in Walgreens’ history. And now Steve is Globoforce’s CHRO, sharing, through his interactions with employees, customers, and partners, his firsthand account of how inclusion and recognition can make a difference as core tenets of a human culture.
At Globoforce, we believe in the power of emotional connections and a sense of belonging. Our fierce belief in the value of the human spirit aligns with Steve’s journey. As our CHRO, Steve sets the tone for our company culture as one of inclusion and belonging, and, together, we share this vision with our customers and partners.
In the middle of adversity, every kindness matters, every interaction matters. Recognition matters. It all leads to bringing humanity to the workplace and to our lives.
Learn more about Steve's perspective on the power of recognition in building a diverse and inclusive work culture in our interview with him on WorkHuman Radio, embedded at the top of this post.
To buy tickets and see if "A Chance in the World" is playing in a theater near you, check out Fathom Events.
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