Nashville native Brittany N. Cole began her corporate career while she was an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where she studied political science and communications. An internship at Pfizer led her away from her initial pre-law track and into Corporate America, where she made her mark in everything from sales leadership to marketing. Eventually, she developed a focus in diversity and equity; her inaugural entrepreneurial experience was in building career confidence through personal styling and image consulting — an avenue that organically pivoted into career coaching. Now, she’s CEO and Founder of Career Thrivers, a full-service inclusive leadership development company that assists businesses in growing a diverse and inclusive culture in the workplace. Her new book, Thrive Through It, highlights wellness in the midst of resilience. Please welcome speaker, coach, consultant, author and our newest FACE of Nashville, Brittany N. Cole.
How did you go from Corporate America to career coaching?
My first corporate experience was at Pfizer through an organization called Inroads. They’re a career development organization that’s still around today — very focused on corporate diversity and inclusion. It seems so fitting that the work I do today is [also] in the diversity and inclusion space and that I got my start because of a company that’s very similar to Career Thrivers. It was through that internship that I was initially exposed to Corporate America. My two summers of experience at Pfizer were completely beyond my expectations. I was offered a full-time job during the fall semester of my senior year, and I initially thought I would go back to Nashville, work a couple of years, and postpone law school. The short story is that I got inside the company and really enjoyed the work. I lived in New York for a bit at our headquarters. It was there that I started doing diversity and inclusion work, partnering with our leaders and employee resource groups to help primarily women and Black professionals at Pfizer to really thrive in their careers. It organically pivoted into career coaching — the speaking opportunities started to grow. Companies asked me to come in and help them set up their learning and development from a diversity and inclusion perspective, and through a combination of opportunity and organizational change at Pfizer, it was a chance to take a leap. I left Pfizer at the end of 2019.
Tell us about Career Thrivers.
I believe that every experience is an opportunity for continuous improvement. I remember having some really tough moments of career grief, and I didn’t realize I was grieving at the time. No one had died, but I had similar emotional experiences. Oftentimes, they were a product of me being the “only” in the room, whether it was the only Black woman or the youngest. On the other end of some of those harder moments, there was always a lesson to learn — an opportunity to get better, whether it was using my voice more and speaking up, showing up more for myself, or getting better at some other skill that helped make me a better leader. So, I definitely live by that motto. When we think about where we spend most of our waking hours, it’s connected to our work and careers. Because of that, I believe we should be in a place where we’re fulfilled and can operate from a space of authenticity, purpose and joy. For me, that’s what thriving looks like. I can show up and be all of who I was created to be, bring all of my gifts and strengths, and work in an environment where I feel valued and serve in a meaningful way. The mission behind Career Thrivers is to partner with organizations to cultivate the kind of culture where everyone believes they belong.
You often say, “Without transparency, there is no transformation.” Can you explain that?
Even if we think about the current climate of organizations trying to find solutions around cultivating an inclusive culture, most of the conversations are about transparency. The link between transparency and transformation is trust. If you want people to trust you, regardless of the context of the relationship, transparency almost becomes a prerequisite. I’m on my soapbox for a moment here, but let’s not pretend that we’ve always prioritized an inclusive culture. We can look around our organizations and see that perhaps that’s not the case. But what we can say is, “We haven’t always done this right or well, and that’s okay.” Part of transparency is being able to lean into a growth mindset to say, “As a leader, I don’t always have to be right or have all the answers, and I don’t always have to do things perfectly, but when I let people into those vulnerable spaces, it builds their trust.” If leaders and companies want to have real change and transformation take place, they have to have transparency on the front end.
What do you want every business owner to know so they can provide a more inclusive culture and equitable workplace?
Most diversity, equity and inclusion challenges come back to a lack of trust. We see this so often, especially in the strategic planning space. We get to the pay-equity analysis or the conversation around numbers, and everyone is in a frenzy because things look as you would expect them to look. No one is blind here. Everyone sees that there are challenges, so for the leader or business owner, it becomes a question of whether or not to acknowledge it. Let’s acknowledge the problem and that it’s being prioritized. I also want every leader to know that you cannot recruit your way out of a lack of inclusion problem. So many business owners are currently trying to solve for not having enough diversity. If that’s the priority, what often happens is that you end up with tokenism. When you have diversity without inclusion, you fall into this space of tokenism where there isn’t a culture that has been cultivated to help retain the diversity that you’ve just spent thousands of dollars recruiting and onboarding. If more leaders prioritize the culture to retain and advance the diversity that they want to see more of, we would have more equity and more organizations that are farther along the path on this work.
Tell us about your book, Thrive Through It.
Thrive Through It is my new “book baby.” I’m really proud! It hit the bestseller list within four hours of launching. The book is about helping people who are driven, ambitious go-getters — who are almost naturally resilient — to prioritize wellness in the midst of resilience. It’s about redefining how we think about resilience.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My dad always told my brothers and me, “The biggest room in our house is the room for improvement.” In my line of work, it’s really about continuous improvement, prioritizing diversity, and ensuring that there’s an inclusive group of leaders at every level of an organization. Prioritizing continuous improvement as a way of life and helping others be better is really advice that has stuck with me.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
A good book, good accessories — even if I have on my loungewear, I put on a pair of earrings, and I’m ready — and a good tube of red lipstick.
Are you ready for even more inspiration from women in our community? Check out our other Nashville FACES.