Deborah Elam began her 30-year career at General Electric as an intern, working her way up to Chief Diversity Officer and later GE Foundation President. As GE’s first black female corporate officer, she dedicated her career to diversity, philanthropy and inclusion. She’s received numerous accolades and awards.
In 2017 Elam launched Corporate Playbook, a business consulting firm specializing in coaching organizations to elevate diversity, inclusion and philanthropy. Learn more about Elam and her company here.
Elam is this year’s keynote speaker for the Chamber’s Diversify Luncheon June 19. Learn, grow and collaborate with us at the Diversify Summit as we explore diversity and inclusion for the 21st century workplace through Elam's keynote speech and three breakout sessions. Learn more about these sessions and register here.
Trend: Have you ever visited Chattanooga before? What are you most looking forward to?
Deborah Elam: Yes, I've been to Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls. Both beautiful landmarks that I remember visiting on a church vacation bible school trip when I was in high school. I subsequently brought my own daughters to visit on a family vacation years ago.
On this trip, I'm looking forward to meeting the people of Chattanooga. In my vast travels around the globe, the most lasting impressions I have are always of the local people.
Trend: You’ve dedicated your career to diversity, inclusion and philanthropy. What can business professionals at any level of responsibility do to advocate for inclusion within their companies and communities?
Elam: There are three areas in which any professional can help advance diversity and inclusion. Being knowledgeable, having intellectual curiosity about the subject and having courageous conversations.
The ability to ask about and share stories of life experience with those who are different from you goes a long way towards deeper understanding and appreciation of a co-worker's life journey.
Trend: Your bio mentions many impressive accolades and awards – which felt like the biggest accomplishment for you?
Elam: I never think about it that way … the biggest accomplishment. I've worked hard and have been extremely blessed.
I'm grateful that I've been able to achieve a level of success but, I'm fairly normal. Meaning, I don't wear success on my sleeve. I'm proud of being equally comfortable as a high powered executive and riding on a float and throwing Mardi Gras beads during the Carnival season in my hometown of New Orleans.