Dr. Beverly Edgehill: Empowerment Embodied

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By Evan. J. Cutts

Boston, MA — Dr. Beverly Edgehill, Vice President and Global Head of the Organizational Development Center of Expertise (OD COE) at the TJX Companies, is a leader whose efficacy to inspire and galvanize self-actualization expresses a legacy of positive change in the lives and journeys of those she meets. Dr. Edgehill earned her Ed.D. in Adult and Organizational Learning from Columbia University in the City of New York. She cites the impactful career and bearing of Shirley Chisholm as an inspiration in her life, and practices mindfulness through yoga and meditation.

More than an executive at a multinational brand, Dr. Edgehill is a role model for anyone striving to become outspoken, mindful, compassionate, and influential. Authenticity and holistic kindness remain at the core of the work she does for herself, her family, professional team, and community. Dr. Beverly Edgehill is charting a path towards a future where empowerment is an experience the world can share in. I had the honor and extreme pleasure of spending an hour getting to know this indelible leader. Read on and be moved, inspired, and welcomed.

EJC: As an Vice President of the TJX Companies, a mother, a mentor, an educator, and so much more, how do you maintain work-life balance or work-life integration?

DBE: Work-life integration must consider the simultaneity of experience—a term I picked up from a professor at Simmons College. I’m each of these individual roles you listed and I am my entire self at the same time. How I manage it all is an art, not a science.

Doing so requires living in the moment and remaining present. Though I’m no longer the CEO of a nonprofit organization, I still retain the skills of an executive leader. So when I’m present and the present moment requires an executive leader, I can become one. The same is true for being a mother or educator.

On your terms, what does it mean to “Live in the moment?”

DBE: To live is the moment is to be fully present, so that you can respond appropriately to any situation or circumstance. I have to prepare myself daily to accomplish this. Meditating in the morning and throughout the day allows me to remain grounded, responsive—not reactive—and in the moment.

EJC: What are your values?

DBE: Integrity is my number one value. It is a part of everything I do. It’s the whole notion of being authentic to yourself and being aligned with that authenticity. If you able to do that then you’re able to be honest with others and the world.

Compassion is second. I try to be compassionate with myself first, so I can be compassionate toward others. It’s about understanding that we’re human beings, things happen, and we need to be able forgive ourselves.

EJC: What lessons helped you become the leader that you are today?

DBE: Early in my career, I had to learn to be influential without authority. I achieved this by being clear about my leadership vision and engaging others in it, influencing and exciting them about it. Also, over the years, learning how to go slow in order to go fast was an important lesson. Going slow to go fast means taking the time to gather the necessary information before acting.

Perhaps the most crucial lesson that allowed me to grow into the leader I am was finally giving myself the permission to be that leader. When I was younger and looking for leadership opportunities I looked outside of myself for permission to be a leader. But I’ve come to learn that one must self-authorize. Say to yourself: You got this! Go ahead and do it.

EJC: At a Color Magazine event some years ago, you drew a distinction between what it means to empower and to be empowered. Can you share your thoughts on this distinction?

DBE: To be empowered is to self-author; it is an internal action. It is being centered in one’s self-identity as being worthy of all the good things one desires and capable of handling all of the challenges that one may experience. To be empowered is develop one’s mental, emotional, and spiritual stamina in order to achieve one’s aspirations. To empower is how we can help others have the experience of being empowered. We can be role models. We can coach and mentor others. We can be more transparent about our own journey to empowerment, instead of pretending that it was or is an easy road.

EJC: In what ways do you strive to empower those around you?

DBE: I try to empower others through the communities I build in my life. Community is something very important to me, it is something I seek out. I have a spiritual community that I’m very much plugged into. We support each other; they help me keep my perspective. At TJX, I create community with my team by creating opportunities for them to realize their career aspirations while achieving our business priorities.

I’m also a part of a Black women’s leadership and public service organization called The Links. And of course, I have my friends and family.

EJC: How did you get involved with The Links? 

DBE: I was invited to apply for membership some years ago. I was accepted and found working with this group was such a natural fit. There’s an initiative that we’re involved with at The Steppingstone Foundation (Boston, MA). The foundation provides several programs to underserved communities around mentorship and academic preparation.

All of the women in The Links are professionals of color working in a variety of fields like business, law, STEM, medicine, and others. We serve as mentors and meet with a group of high-school aged students of color on a regular basis.

Our discussions range from charting career goals, writing resumes, and preparing for college to talking about major cultural news, like the recent Black Panther movie.

EJC: That’s fantastic work! Having access to such a variety of expertise is quite impressive.

DBE: Yes it is.

EJC: So, now that I know it was a conversation point for you at the Stepping Stone Foundation, I have to ask. What did you think of the Black Panther film? 

DBE: There were so many layers to the film, which I really connected with. Particularly, T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) struggle to take on the mantle of ‘king.’ It was interesting to see the notion of accepting one’s role as a leader explored in the film. When we think about leadership in the context of the movie, the power comes from inside, the suit just enhances it.

The movie did excellent job of asking “What is right?” in terms of uplifting the Black community. We see that question examined through the lens of the Black-American rage in Erik Killmonger’s (Michael B. Jordan) character and through the complicated [existence] of the African diaspora.

What I really loved about the film, was the role Black women played as the fierce defenders of their homeland and what was righteous, particularly when Okoye (Danai Gurira) took a stand against her husband in the final battle scene.

EJC: That was one of my favorite scenes as well! On that topic, what women in Black history do you look to for inspiration? 

DBE: The work of Shirley Chisholm. She was an African-American politician in the late 60s through the early 80s. She became the first Black woman elected to Congress, representing New York. She ran for president in 1972. I remember watching her on television and being struck by her countenance and confidence. She was so fierce. She didn’t make it far, but that didn’t matter. When I saw the way she showed up for herself, I knew I wanted to be that, whatever that was which exudes so much confidence and strength.

EJC: I think it’d be fair to say that she was empowerment embodied. 

DBE: Definitely.

EJC: What advice would you give to younger yourself? To young Black women? 

DBE: When I was younger, I was a quiet leader. I worked behind the scenes. If given the chance I’d encourage her to trust her instincts; to follow her intuition, particularly under the idea of being the natural leader that I’ve always known myself to be.

I would tell her not to wait for anyone to give her the permission to be that natural leader.

EJC: In your opinion, what does it mean to be a woman of Color in 2018? 

DBE: It is to be in a feat of empowerment. It is to be in a place where I can, we can, individually and collectively, influence a beneficial outcome for all involved parties. Consider the landmark vote in Alabama, last December. We have elevated ourselves to such a level of empowerment to be able to say: What does our agenda need to be? What are we going after? On a large scale? Medium? Or small? 

Small perhaps meaning our individual communities; medium meaning perhaps a segment of the population; and large scale meaning examining how we can redirect the current tide of disenfranchisement that is negatively impacting all people of color.

EJC: On a closing note, consider the vast changes occurring in our country today, economically, culturally, and technologically. What tools will the leaders of tomorrow need to carry out their goals and affect the change they wish to see in the world? 

DBE: I love this question. There are people in this country and abroad that struggling because of the lack of opportunity. I think the leaders of tomorrow will need to understand that we do not live in a vacuum; that there is an accountability we owe to each other as human beings.

You know, I really think it’s about…perspective. It’s about looking from one’s vantage point to see how everything is connected. So, consider this: If you’re a captain of industry, the head of a big multinational brand, it is my hope that you they, from your vantage point, would look at all the other parts that make up a world community and leverage your influence and capital to institute a balance.

Whether one is a Supreme Court judge, the CEO of a major corporation, a leading medical scientist, or president of a university, my hope is that one will recognize that with their power and influence there are many parts of the world in which they can make a difference.