Day in, day out, Black professionals in the U.S. have complained about not being given equal opportunities in their careers. There have been stories of how companies set goals to boost diversity at workplaces but then fail to create a culture that would attract and retain Black talent.
And when in 2018 Dorinda Walker, then a Black executive at Prudential, decided to share her belittling experiences at the top financial institution in an email congratulating a new CEO, she was blatantly ignored.
“The state of divisiveness in this country, coupled with the existing Prudential culture and blatant bias I’ve experienced and witnessed has become an unfortunate and accepted cultural norm in some key areas of the company,” she wrote in the letter she sent to Charles Lowrey on his appointment as CEO of Prudential in October 2018.
Walker, who had spent 19 years with Prudential and described herself as a “consistent strong performer”, was then in multicultural marketing where she was essentially the ambassador/spokesperson of Prudential both internally and externally, communicating the company’s commitment to women and diverse consumers. She began traveling around the country in 2013, “cultivating relationships with trusted thought leaders, community and faith-based organizations, and ethnic media groups,” she wrote.
From 2016, she began getting nominations for numerous honors and awards, including being recognized by The Network Journal as a 2017 Top 25 Influential Black Woman in Business and mention in a Forbes article as a top black leader and speaker in the country. But these nominations came with backlash from senior leadership of Prudential, who accused her of using Prudential to promote her own personal brand, Walker wrote.
Due to the perception her seniors had about her, she was denied the higher rating that she deserved during her performance review months later.
“My initial reaction was anger, but I decided to let it go. If certain leaders didn’t have the courage to speak with me directly and ask questions about my work and motives, their opinions did not warrant my attention. I did not require their acceptance to feel good about my achievements. And quite frankly, I believe if I were a white woman the response would be much different,” Walker wrote.
By the end of 2017, the multicultural department was disbanded and the team was realigned to Corporate Advertising, where Walker said she felt her “role has been reduced to the token black woman on the team.”
The only Black Vice President in the group, Walker said she had not been included in any leadership or business planning meetings.
“My current experience is so diminished, that I no longer believe in leadership’s commitment to cultivating an inclusionary culture. I like many black employees in GMC are continuously and systematically ignored, marginalized and discriminated against. It’s not unconscious, it’s outright blatant bias,” Walker wrote in the email, hoping to receive a favorable response from the CEO in terms of what Prudential can do to better the conditions of its next generation of black leaders at Prudential.
But this was the response from Lowrey, according to Walker:
“…Many thanks for the congratulations, but more importantly for sharing your feelings and perspective. As I hope you are aware, we are committed to our I&D strategy, and hope to deliver further results in the future. Always good to hear from you.”
Walker is no longer with Prudential, but she had shied away from discussing her experience publicly due to her terms of a separation agreement.
Companies have been depending on certain exit agreements that do not allow people to speak out about their alleged discrimination. In the case of Walker, the spokesman for Prudential told Wall Street Journal that Walker “signed a standard separation agreement with a nondisparagement clause and confidentiality provision that prevents her from discussing the terms of the agreement, such as the compensation amount.”
The spokesperson added that the claims in Walker’s email were “investigated and not substantiated.”
Read Walker’s email exchange with the CEO here.