Many cities deal with the challenge of attracting and retaining African American executives and increasing diverse leadership at high levels – Pittsburgh has found a unique solution. That solution is The Advanced Leadership Initiative (TALI), an effort that founding director Evan Frazier, Senior Vice President of Community Affairs at Highmark Health in Pittsburgh, spearheaded from concept to reality.
The initiative aims to “build the pipeline of African American executive leadership in the Pittsburgh region to foster a more diverse, inclusive, and prosperous community.” It does so with wide support from area corporations, foundations, executives, and community partners. TALI’s signature program, delivered in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, is the Executive Leadership Academy, a comprehensive seven-month executive education certificate program.
As a CMU alumnus and former trustee, Frazier and a dedicated group developed the program with CMU’s Tepper School of Business, along the three pillars of academics, coaching, and mentorship. Aimed at high-potential executives and mid-level managers, participants attend seven immersive, two-day modules. And while they receive invaluable training in typical business school areas, the unique program also brings in nationwide faculty to address critical topics more rarely explored, but that clearly impact African Americans.
“As an African American professional, I recognize that often the black experience is very different and has unique challenges,” Frazier says. “Without training on how to effectively navigate racial bias and cultural barriers, we’re automatically at a disadvantage in the workplace. Our goal is to give leaders the agility and confidence to navigate any type of environment and be successful.”
In addition, Academy participants are able to select a professional coach for the program’s duration. Significantly, they’re also paired with an executive mentor chosen to fit the background, discipline, and aspirations of each cohort member, an invaluable component accomplished with the assistance of Dr. Rosalind Chow, CMU professor and Academy faculty director.
While highly beneficial itself, the hope is to ultimately create sponsorship relationships. It’s a hope that’s been furthered by Greg Spencer, TALI’s founding co-chair, who incorporated his own emerging sponsorship program. Frazier credits Spencer, President and CEO of Randall Industries, as one of his own longtime mentor/ sponsors.
TALI’s first cohort launched in January 2019, graduating 23 members. This year’s cohort launched with 28, bringing the cohort community to more than 50 members in just two years.
Frazier strongly emphasizes that TALI’s success couldn’t have been achieved without the help of many, including its dedicated executive committee; advisory board; co-chairs Marsha Jones (PNC), Jerry MacCleary (Covestro), and Spencer; as well as managing director Robert Young; fiscal sponsor, the POISE Foundation; and world- class academic partner CMU. Importantly, TALI is also supported by a corporate CEO council comprised of 16 area chief executives, dedicated to TALI’s mission and willing to actively support participants.
Already, the program has sparked a tangible sense of community and optimism in the region. Cohort members have garnered promotions, new opportunities, retention incentives, and a sharply increased desire to remain where they’ve now developed a deeper and broader sense of connectedness.
“It’s happening right before our eyes,” notes Frazier. “I’m incredibly proud that we’re making progress for cohort members, the African American community, and the broader region.”