exterior of starbucks location
Starbucks' Nzinga Shaw credits her mentor in helping her realize that many businesses were missing a diversity and inclusion component, prompting her to move into that space. — Starbucks

Nzinga Shaw, Starbucks’ global chief inclusion and diversity officer, describes her mentor Neil Glat, the former president of the New York Jets, as her “complete opposite in every way.”

But it’s precisely that difference that’s fueled Shaw’s professional growth.

Glat’s contrasting background and makeup, he’s a left brain analytic while she’s a right brain creative, for one, has served Shaw well as she’s soaked up his key lessons throughout her career — from what it takes to become an invaluable business asset to “cracking the code” on what helps companies thrive, Shaw told CO—.

His “take-bold-chances” ethos and high emotional intelligence have shaped Shaw’s leadership style in stints that include chief diversity officer of the National Basketball Association (the NBA’s first), and now as she leads the diversity and inclusion efforts at Starbucks worldwide.

A year into her tenure at the $27 billion coffee chain, Shaw’s role intersects with a pivotal moment in the nation’s history, as the country and business leaders alike face a national reckoning on race, with corporate America pledging to address systemic racism in unprecedented ways.

Here, she shares how Glat, who has challenged Shaw to “make people comfortable talking about uncomfortable topics,” has informed her growth as a leader, and how a new “cutting edge” diversity initiative she’s spearheading at Starbucks marks his indelible imprint.

CO—: Who is your mentor and why?

NS: My mentor is Neil Glat, former National Football League (NFL) senior executive and former president of the New York Jets franchise. Neil is my mentor because we are complete opposites in every way. He is white and I am Black, he is Jewish and I am Christian, he is analytic and I am creative, and the list goes on. I have learned extraordinary lessons from Neil because he helps me to see the world through a different lens and he challenges me to get out of my comfort zone to think differently.

This advice prompted me to look deeper than the surface and determine what we were missing that could take us from good to great.

Nzinga Shaw, global chief inclusion and diversity officer, Starbucks

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CO—: What is Neil like?

NS: Neil is a very intelligent man with a high IQ that has a good balance of bringing his funny personality to the table and utilizing his EQ [emotional intelligence] to create a pleasant working environment. He is not afraid to challenge me to step outside of my comfort zone and try new things or step into unfamiliar territory. He has twin daughters and a wife and has learned to embrace the challenges that women face with empathy and compassion. He is not afraid to challenge the status quo and demands excellence from everyone.

CO—: What have you learned from him that’s been game changing to your career and in leading a business?

NS: Neil taught me a very important lesson early on in my career when I was an HR [human resources] practitioner at the NFL. He said, ‘Spend your time learning every facet of our business. Then, figure out a business challenge that needs to be solved that no one has learned how to do. Lastly, learn how to do that specific thing and then you’ll always be valuable.’ This advice prompted me to look deeper than the surface and determine what we were missing that could take us from good to great. Soon after, I realized that diversity and inclusion was the missing ingredient in our business model. Years later, I have become an expert in this space and have started sophisticated D&I functions at Edelman, the National Basketball Association and now at Starbucks. Neil’s advice helped me to crack the code on what companies were missing and the core thing that will help them thrive.

 zing shaw headshot
Nzinga Shaw, global chief inclusion and diversity officer, Starbucks. — Starbucks

CO—: Show us Neil’s imprint in action.

NS: When I was the chief diversity and inclusion officer at the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena (NBA) franchise, I created MOSAIC [Model of Shaping Atlanta through Inclusive Conversations], an annual symposium comprised of panel discussions, keynote speeches and interactive activities, through the prism of diversity and inclusion and leveraging sports entertainment as the connective tissue to unify the masses. Neil’s imprint on me served as inspiration and a guiding light to use the platform of sports to be brave and be different. He challenged me to make people get comfortable with talking about uncomfortable topics so that we would ultimately have no choice but to change the status quo and create equity for all. MOSAIC was wildly successful, grew its attendance every year, attracted global thought leaders as speakers and had a five-year run until I departed the Atlanta Hawks franchise last year.

CO—: What recent strategic initiative at Starbucks reflects Neil’s influence?

NS: I am spearheading a project at Starbucks that will tie executive compensation to inclusion and diversity goals and metrics. This is cutting edge in many ways because there aren’t many corporate organizations that are actually holding their executives personally accountable for results. In many ways, the evolution of this inaugural program reflects Neil’s imprint on me because he encourages me to take bold chances, he tells me that it is okay to fail forward as long as I am moving ahead, and he tells me to live my life without regrets, wouldas, couldas, and shouldas. So, I don’t know what the future holds as far as benchmarking the success of the novel program, but Neil would say that part doesn’t matter. The most important thing for me to do is try to do my very best with the greatest intentions.

CO—: Complete this sentence: Had I not met Neil, I likely never would have …

NS: Become the first chief diversity and inclusion officer in the National Basketball Association. I might have been reluctant to spearhead a job that had never been done before. I might have been scared to write my own job description, and I may not have wanted to face the scrutiny that came my way as I helped my franchise navigate a public facing racial crisis. But I need that experience to jump the hurdles in front of me, brush off the naysayers, and smile in the face of adversity. Thank you for pushing me, Neil.

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Published November 09, 2020