By R.V. Baugus
Trudy Bourgeois, founder and CEO of the Center for Workforce Excellence, will serve as the keynote speaker for IAVM’s virtual annual conference ENCORE, held October 5-6. Suffice to say where she has been the last 20 years in founding and leading her business is quite a career change from her previous life in the corporate world. A visit with this dynamic personality who is one of America’s leading experts on transformational leadership and a highly regarded leader in the fields of leadership, diversity, and inclusion proved further she is where she belongs, making a difference in lives. It is that same desire she wishes for those who attend her upcoming session — to be difference-makers. Trudy took some time out of her schedule to visit about her background, her business, and what she plans to bring before IAVM members at her keynote at ENCORE.
RVB: I understand that your background prior to starting your business was quite different from where you now sit. Tell us some about that.
TB: I spent 18 years in corporate and was very blessed, very fortunate. I had a $3 million business unit that I managed but as I was climbing the ladder I remember when I became the VP because one lady made me a sign. On one side it said the doctor is in and the other side said the doctor is out. We had that on my door because people would come by and want to talk to me about their personal strategies and challenges. What I really discovered was something that was a seed sown in childhood that I have a love for the underdog. I have a real thirst to help people and found out I loved developing people even more than I loved putting together million dollar deals.
As a result of that, several years later I decided I was going to leave corporate. I was going to really use my talents whatever God had given me to make a difference for others. So twenty years ago I started this business.
I am so incredibly fortunate. I am not going to say it’s been easy because I had to hit the reset button. I moved from the comfort of a title and a corner office. I decided that wasn’t fulfilling enough for me. When you can find sweet spots where you can do real life, knowing your life matters to people – it just gives you a different journey in life.
I couldn’t do the things I do now had I not gone through what I did in life. One is segregation. I grew up in Jim Crow and it wasn’t easy. This was back in the day when Black people weren’t welcome but I know that I am where I am not because of me but my faith and I’m very blessed to have parents and grandparents who breathed possibility into my life. I had only gone into homes of two of the kids I had gone to school with because I was Black. There was a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Donaghy, who were people ahead of their time. They were white people and exposed me to things I would have never otherwise have known like opera and other things.
I know there is such power in people using their gift, using their platform, using their privilege to make an impact. I’ll be talking about the Donaghy’s when I’m on my death bed.
RVB: How will your presentation resonate with the IAVM audience?
TB: Of all the industries, you all attract people from all walks of life. I believe that means that there is a special opportunity for this industry. Not every industry has the platform that you guys have and so the more that you all can be public champions … we all need to be public champions of inclusion but because of your platform you can speak to so many different people from so many different backgrounds. I’m super excited about the opportunity to maybe remind people of the things that they already know but maybe stir a richer appetite for being bolder, being more courageous, being more intentional, because our country is at a horrible state of polarization. We need people who can bring people together.
RVB: You’ve whetted my appetite! Without giving away the kitchen, can you give us another teaser or two about your keynote?
TB: What I have learned is that no matter how you were raised or who influenced you as a child that once you become an adult you can make a different choice. History is history but we can challenge ourselves to say that some of the things that I learned in my past still serve me well. I don’t want to blame anybody. I don’t want to shame anybody. There’s no value in that. All of us are going to have something that is going to be written about our time on this earth and I just want to enable and equip these individuals with the passion and the know-how to be a voice of peace, to be a voice of inclusion, and to be a voice of celebrating differences. I’ll be talking about my life story including the good, the bad, the ugly, and the stories of many of my clients who have had their own revelations, their own aha moments. I am so incredibly grateful to be able to speak to anybody but I’m particularly excited for this opportunity.
I really want people to leave different than when they first came, even if it’s like a month down the road, like, oh, that’s what she was talking about. You never know when the dividends are going to pay. I’m hoping to have a conversation and not be a talking head. I’m hoping to have a conversation about humanity and about the way we treat each other. Hopefully that is going to have a ripple effect.
RVB: Your impressive business website has a tagline of “Equipping Leaders to Be Change Agents.” Define for us a change agent and is this something easier said than done to change people?
TB: Our heart’s desire is to help people build new capabilities that allow for them to create an inclusive culture where differences can be celebrated and be a business advantage. When I think about equipping people it starts with understanding history. Being a change agent means by default that you represent something that goes against the norm, goes against the grain. That’s not natural. It is so much harder it seems because you are trying to shape and influence others and you can only do that through vulnerability. You have to actually open your heart up and admit what you don’t know and admit you’re afraid and find the courage to shift your behavior to the degree that you find your voice and then you use that voice and you use it intentionally. It’s not something that you turn on or turn off.
Change agents are always on. They can’t see injustices anywhere and keep quiet. They just simply can’t. It’s so deep into their soul that they are compelled to act, even if it’s just something like trash on the ground. They’re just compelled to pick that up. If they see someone being mistreated they’re compelled to say something and not go “oh that’s too bad,” that’s not my problem.
RVB: A lot of people see vulnerability as a weakness. Is it?
TB: No, in fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s a strength. It is a source of growth. To walk around pretending that you know everything you’re not going to learn a doggone thing. If you’re vulnerable, you admit your own frailty … there’s power in that because then you have opened yourself up to all kinds of opportunities for growth.
RVB: Diversity in its infancy in the business world as well as the outside world pretty much meant black and white. How has diversity changes over the years and have you seen progress?
TB: I’ve seen starts and stops. I definitely have seen positive things accomplished. Am I satisfied? No. That’s how change agents come into play. I will say the untimely death of George Floyd … his death was a gift in a lot of ways. It gave us an opportunity to start having those courageous conversations. I am still more hopeful now even though we are in a high level of polarization. I feel like the next generation does not have the same tolerance that we had. I think CEO’s and boards are now recognizing they must play a role in solving societal issues including race relations.
RVB: Any final comment or takeaway you would like to have IAVM attendees leave with?
TB: My heart’s desire would be for them to embrace their role in changing daily experiences for the positive. Over our careers, no one is going to remember how many widgets you sold or how many deals you made, but every single person will have made an impact in one way or another. Make it positive. Not too hard to do. Wrap your head around that and you have power.