Each time Adrienne Trimble steps into her stately New York office, she is reminded of the highly regarded greats who graced the office before her. For it is in this office that Harriet Michel, a pioneering expert on policy impacting minorities, sat in her executive chair, influencing the relationships between underrepresented businesses and majority buying entities. In so doing, she left her footprint on the minority business development landscape.
Today, it is Adrienne who sits at the helm of the National Minority Supplier Development Council, and as its president and CEO, she is forging her own path and making her own history. It isn’t a position upon which Adrienne set her sights, but as destiny has a way of wielding its mighty sword, it is a battle for which she has been prepared to fight.
Unbeknownst to her, Adrienne has trained for the top spot her entire career. From designing recruitment processes to engineering employee policy and performance systems for organizations, Adrienne has become proficient in human resource functions. Yet, it is her sincere passion for diversity and inclusion that has helped direct her path and continues guiding her along the way.
Adrienne reveals her secret for success.
“Making inclusion a priority is a passion,” she says. “It’s about bringing others into a place where they can feel valued and welcomed and able to contribute. It’s about breaking down those barriers that may keep them from being able to fully participate – either in the workplace, marketplace, or community. We must have people who have the wherewithal to stand up no matter what. It is not always easy.”
A star is born
Prior to leading the NMSDC, Adrienne made her mark on the diversity and inclusion world during her nearly two decades of service to Toyota. From its Engineering and Manufacturing division to Toyota North America, Adrienne influenced policy as she managed its supplier diversity and later its general diversity and inclusion operations. However, her love for equity started taking form long before her career began – when she was a working college student.
“I was a receptionist in the HR department of one of the Cincinnati hospitals, and I remember there was a part of the department called Employee Relations,” Adrienne says. “Every time there was a problem with an employee, all of the managers went to that person. She was responsible for interpreting policies and how they would be applied and how the employees would be disciplined.”
As Adrienne witnessed those encounters, she recalls longing to be the person in charge of Employee Relations.
“That was the person who insured everyone was treated fairly and equitably and that everyone got a fair chance,” Adrienne says. “So for me, it became very personal because I wanted to be in a role where I could help organizations create cultures and environments where it is fair for all employees so they can be productive and able to participate and able to contribute to the company’s success.”
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Adrienne would go on to become “that person,” and in so doing, she developed a gift for asking the tough questions and taking on the sometimes-uncomfortable tasks associated with making sure each person was represented at the table – people of color, women, LGBTQ+, the disabled, veterans, and others with differences. It was not long before she uncovered the key to unlocking the minds of those hesitant to grasp the concept: make it about them.
“It doesn’t resonate until it becomes personal – until it’s a family member that has some type of physical challenge or a close friend who became involved in some type of racial situation where they weren’t treated fairly,” Adrienne says. “People have to see it and feel it. It has to hit home with them before they understand the impact of it. You have to put them in positions where they have opportunities to establish some type of common ground to look at the situation from a different view from what they may or may not ordinarily see on a daily basis.”
Don’t be scared
When thinking about diversity and inclusion, the Golden Rule often comes to mind: if we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, we are essentially saying that we will treat each and every person with decency and respect, and in return, they will do the same for us. Yet, a seemingly simple concept in many cases rises to the level of quantum physics when it is time for work environments, communities, and society as a whole to apply these principles. Adrienne cites fear as the culprit for wreaking havoc on our abilities to embrace humanity at its core.
“People have to get past the fear of losing something – power, influence, positioning, or whatever that may be,” Adrienne says. “People have to see what is in it for them, and they have to get past the fear that they’re losing something and see there’s a greater good to be gained by working together. We are always stronger more collectively than we ever will be divided, so we have to find a way to make people understand that.”
For those who still cannot seem to get on board, Adrienne turns to data related to the constantly changing U.S. demographic, one that is becoming more and more diverse. She draws attention to the increase in women and minorities in the workplace, more people who are openly LGBTQ+, and veterans returning to the workforce. Adrienne implores us to think critically and to understand the economic and community impact of these realities.
“The data is telling us the next generation will be incredibly diverse,” Adrienne says. “We have to get prepared for what that’s going to mean in the workplace if we want to make sure that everyone is fully participating and insuring that we have a strong economy, a strong and productive workforce, and a strong and productive marketplace. Somehow we’ve got to get people past the fear.”
Whether overcoming fear, understanding data, or tapping into our sense of humanity, when participating in diversity and inclusion work, Adrienne encourages individuals to be intentional and to ensure that systematic changes are made to integrate diversity and inclusion into the businesses processes with an integrated approach.
“It has to be the core of what you’re doing,” Adrienne says. “It is best when diversity and inclusion is a standalone initiative and truly seen as an enabler to the business instead of just focusing on training and development because that is just checking the box. It has to be seen as an opportunity rather than a problem.”
And as Adrienne progresses along her journey, she has no problem allowing diversity and inclusion to create more opportunities to win.