How Diversity Is Helping Companies Enter Into New and Emerging Markets

I had the pleasure of interviewing Stella Odogwu. Stella is the Founder of Intelle Coaching Solutions. At Intelle, Stella’s purpose is to…

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Stella Odogwu. Stella is the Founder of Intelle Coaching Solutions. At Intelle, Stella’s purpose is to empower ambitious, career-minded Black women to ascend to the very top of their careers, while preserving their wellness. Intelle helps clients banish impostor syndrome, close wage gaps, hone their executive presence through strong personal branding, build strategic relationships, achieve their biggest career goals and, stay well through it all.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

Thanks for having me!

I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria until the age of 16 when I moved to the United States for college. Growing up, my parents instilled the value of education and hard work in me. To them, those were the two most essential ingredients for success, and they did everything they could to ensure I got the best education and worked very hard.

I received my Bachelors in Accounting from Bradley University in Peoria, IL and began my career at a prominent “Big 4” Accounting firm. I later got an MBA from Howard University in DC (Go Bison!). I transitioned into the field of Supply Chain Management (a true passion of mine!) where I help large and small companies solve their biggest supply chain challenges ranging from Procurement, Operations, Contract Manufacturing, Logistics, etc.

After 13 years of successfully navigating my Corporate career, I realized something very important.

Many of us were taught the same thing: work hard, go to school and you will be successful. But there was not much focus on building confidence, branding, salary negotiations, wellness, etc. These are essential areas to having a successful career and many of us as Black women were not being equipped in the same ways as others.

In addition, I was often the only Black woman on my team or in some cases, within the entire company, and that presented its own learnings.

Through it all, I realized that others could benefit from my journey. From those experiences and those of others around me, Intelle was born. Intelle serves to help our clients have a better experience in their Corporate careers so they can thrive professionally and personally.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The most interesting and exciting thing has to be the zeal with which our clients have embraced us. I knew there was a need, but my expectations have been surpassed. Daily, we get online messages and emails from many Black women expressing interest, sharing their excitement for the services we offer and encouraging us to keep going! Also, seeing the outcomes we deliver; Black women gaining more confidence, closing wage gaps and truly taking charge of their careers is extremely fulfilling for me!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think our focus on both career success and wellness, simultaneously, is a unique combination. Many of our clients want to successfully climb the corporate ladder and shatter glass ceilings but often times, overall health suffers, especially emotionally. With research showing strong links between mental health and physical health outcomes; and with Black women being more at risk to certain life-threatening illness, wellness just had to play a key role. At Intelle, we are empowering our clients to see themselves as powerful assets that are worthy of their ideal jobs, but also to see their wellness as non-negotiable. In fact, we encourage all of our clients to define their “wellness non-negotiables” and share them with their managers.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

Yes, we are in the process of creating partnerships at the corporate level to further create work cultures that are inspiring and nurturing for our clients.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

My biggest advice, borne out of my own experience is this: People don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Be very intentional about creating a culture that is truly inclusive. It is not enough to “talk the talk” and send out fancy bulletins and flyers. Diversity must permeate throughout the organization, especially to managers.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I am truly grateful to everyone I have encountered in my Corporate career. Whether the encounter was pleasant or not, I walked away with a lesson that has informed my coaching practice and made me a better advocate for my clients. I have also been blessed to have mentors and corporate sponsors throughout my journey.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe that through our coaching, we are developing the next generation of Black Women Leaders. That excites me! With more confident, empowered and successful Black women, we are creating legacies and changing narratives!

In addition, we offer a lot of free educational, coaching and mentoring services to nonprofit organizations whose mission is to empower up and coming Black professionals.

Can you share the top five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. 

Here are 5 ways being intentional about diversity improves profitability:

#1: Diversity is essential to win the war for talent.

Attracting talented employees is one of the key ingredients to a successful company. With women making up 50% of new entrants into the labor pool and 43% being people of color, companies can no longer choose to ignore diversity. It is important to note that hiring is not enough. Many companies unfortunately hire women and people of color only to stifle their upward mobility leaving them stagnant and dissatisfied. This is akin to investing in an asset only to leave it dormant. Companies must intentionally hire, retain and promote diverse talent to reap the full reward of their efforts.

#2: Diversity increases the likelihood for effective and inclusive marketing strategies.

We have all witnessed recent instances where global brands have alienated entire ethnic groups with their offensive marketing campaigns. In some cases, these ethnic groups have taken on the big brands, calling for boycotts. This is counterproductive to profitability and has far-reaching consequences for any company. Inviting as many people to the table with varying perspectives and world views is a must in today’s climate in order to ensure that all marketing efforts are inclusive, on message and consequently, effective.

#3: Diversity leads to higher employee engagement and higher retention.

When a focus on diversity is an integral part of the company culture, it leads to higher levels of employee satisfaction. Employees feel that they are truly valued for their expertise and that differences are celebrated rather than tolerated. When employees are “tokenized” however, they can feel devalued, thereby affecting morale and ultimately lead to higher attrition rates.

#4 Higher levels of diversity helps companies understand their customers better.

When companies are diverse at all levels of the organization, they are better poised to understand the needs of each customer segment. Hiring and promoting with diversity in mind is key to having a robust knowledge of existing customers and new market opportunities. For example, when more women are in Product Development and Marketing leadership positions, they are more likely to be attuned to the needs of other women in the marketplace. They are better positioned to develop products that best address those needs and, craft marketing messages that communicate effectively to other women.

#5: Diversity can foster growth by facilitating entry into new and emerging markets.

I have seen firsthand the impact that having a diverse team can have on the ease of entry into new and unknown market territories. Whether it’s better understanding foreign cultures and policies or it’s identifying untapped markets, having a talent pool with diverse nationalities can help mitigate barriers that often scare companies away from growing globally. As an African woman, one of the ways I have chosen to show up more fully and authentically in Corporate settings is to bring my rich heritage to the table with me and not leave it at home!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

I particularly love this quote and aim to live by it everyday: “With every experience, you alone, are painting your own canvas, thought by thought, choice by choice.

– Oprah Winfrey

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

So many to pick from! I would have to go with Michelle Obama! I am inspired everyday by her authenticity, poise, confidence and just all around amazingness!

Jilea Hemmings CEO & Co-Founder of Best Tyme. She is running a series on how diversity can increase a company’s bottom line

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