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Cynthia Bowman Paves the Way for Future Corporate Leaders

Spelman College Alumna Cynthia Bowman from Bank of America

At a time when the world seems decidedly divisive and polarized, Cynthia Bowman, C'91, chief diversity, inclusion and corporate social responsibility officer at Bank of America (BofA), is blazing a trail by bringing more than 200,000 people together to achieve the greatest good. She is responsible for leading the company's efforts to create a more diverse, inclusive and socially responsible workplace and world.

Bowman’s personal and career journey is a testament to her passion. Her story also underscores the power of a liberal arts education and serves as an inspiration to students at Spelman and leaders in corporate America. Growing up in a working-class, single-parent home, Bowman knew as a young girl from Camden, New Jersey and Denver, Colorado that she wanted to make a difference in the world. She credits her mother, one of the founders of the Imhotep Center of Education in Atlanta, for being the role model and lifelong learning enthusiast who inspired her to excel. After graduating from Spelman’s dual-degree engineering program with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science, Bowman went on to earn a Bachelor of Industrial Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and an MBA in Organization Behavior and Operations from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

 

A Choice That Changed the World

 

Bowman worked at AT&T and Accenture before making the shift that likely caused her peers to scratch their heads. “AT&T was going to pay for me to go back to school, but I decided I was going to switch careers and I am glad I did,” said Bowman. My mother often said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Bowman believes the words her mother drilled into her empowered her to throw caution to the wind, step out on faith and pivot.

“If there’s a vision of unconditional support – my mother is it. She always pushed me in the most positive way and challenged me to think, learn and never settle. She was that cheerleader that you always need in your corner and someone I could really look up to and model my life after because when I was growing up, she had two and three jobs at a time. She was driven and would often take me with her early in the morning to deliver newspapers, telephone books or whatever it took to provide for me and my brother,” recalled Bowman. 

“Every time I made a turn, she helped me realize that you can’t just rest on your laurels. You can’t be content where you are. You have to keep pursuing your dreams.”

Bowman pursued her dreams indeed. She transitioned smoothly into a career in human resources and before long, her passion for diversity and inclusion caught the attention of executives at BofA. Announced in late 2015, she became the company’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, a role that put her in charge of shaping the company’s strategy for driving diversity and inclusion throughout the organization. Her role has since expanded to include corporate social responsibility, with a focus on key areas like consumer affairs, community affairs, external women’s programs and all of the bank’s arts and heritage work.

 

Leading From the Front 

Spelman Alumna Cynthia Bowman from Bank of America on Diversity

Bowman helps steer the bank’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Council, which is chaired by the CEO and comprised of senior leaders from across the company. She also leads the company’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Organization (GDIO), which supports enterprise-wide diversity initiatives, diversity conferences, strategic partner management and sponsorships, diversity awards and recognition, diversity metrics and data reporting, and oversight to the employee networks for more than 200,000 team members and allies across the globe. 

She also led a team of talent acquisition professionals who are responsible for filling tens of thousands of positions annually with the highest quality candidates to meet business needs. In both roles, Bowman partnered with the lines of business and the bank’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Council to drive key talent outcomes across the enterprise.

Changing Communities One Person at a Time

Large Blue Quote LeftOur commitment is not only for our clients but for the communities that we serve, and it is really important for us to help address areas like economic development or mobility as well as someLarge Blue Quote Right of the disparities particularly around race and ethnicity that have happened since the pandemic, because we all know that many of those disparities were exacerbated over the last several years, said Bowman.

Thanks to Bowman and her colleagues, Bank of America ranks number 1 on JUST Capital’s 2023 JUST 100 which takes a close look at how Russell 1000 companies are leading on issues that Americans say are most important to them including fair wages, job creation, ethical leadership, climate change and more.

“At all levels of the company, we work to attract, retain and develop diverse talent. More than 50% of our U.S.-based workforce are people of color, and more than 50% of our U.S workforce are women. Our senior leadership is similarly diverse. Women and/or people of color make up 50% of our Board of Directors and 55% of our management team,” Bowman said.

 
 

Committed to Closing the Gap

 

In Her Own Words: Alumna Cynthia Bowman Gives Advice to Students 

For students at Spelman College, Bowman’s story is a testament to the power of hard work, passion and perseverance. She is proof that it is possible to make a real difference in the world, no matter how humble your beginnings are.

“I encourage Spelman students to work somewhere that is making an impact on the world and a place that cares about topics that they find to be important to them — and for many that’s diversity, equity, inclusion as well as social responsibility,” said Bowman.

“I would also tell students what I tell people who are on my team: It’s about a calling. It’s about making a difference in the world we live in through the work that we do. So, you’ve got to have the passion around issues of importance to you, be willing to question the status quo, and agitate in the right way to get to a different outcome for a lot of progress to occur,” she added. 

Choose Right 

Spelman students eager to start their careers may ask, “Why Bank of America or any other company?” Bowman advises them to look at companies where they can look up and see people who look like them. She attests, “That’s when you know that there is a commitment because it starts at the top – from the board.”

Bowman urges students to also ask their future employers key questions like, “What are you doing to create an environment where everyone feels like they belong and has equal access to opportunity?

“There are so many things we try to do at Bank of America to ensure that inclusion unites everyone. For example, we started hosting ‘courageous conversations’ in 2015. From July to December of the year after George Floyd’s murder, we held over 300 courageous conversations on topics like race and inclusion at our company. We engaged over 165,000 employees on these conversations and they volunteered to come,” said Bowman.  

Bowman said the conversations were not something they mandated. Instead, they created more empathy and understanding around difference in the company. “We also created guides on how to have conversations individually because a lot of people were saying, ‘I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to get it wrong,’ so we gave them starter language. We gave them dos and don’ts about what to say and what not to say. We also donated $25 million to the National Museum of African American History focused on having courageous conversations so we did some work with them on how to talk about race with your children because a lot of people asked, ‘So what do I say to my
children?' "

 

Bowman's work at Bank of America has not gone unnoticed. She has received numerous awards and accolades for her contributions to the field. Recognized as one of For(bes) Culture 50 Champions, she was also named to Diversity Woman Media Magazine’s inaugural Elite 100 Black Women Leaders list and to Insider’s DEI Trailblazers list in 2021. In 2020, she was recognized by American Banker as a member of one of the Top Teams in Banking and named one of North America’s Most Influential D&I Leaders by Hive Learning. In 2019, she was named one of the 30 must-follow Diversity and Inclusion Thought Leaders by Findspark.com, and listed as one of the Top 100 HR Influencers by Engagedly.

For her peers in corporate America, Bowman's story is a call to action. She is a reminder that diversity and inclusion is not just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do. Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion are more successful, more innovative, and more profitable.

True Blue: A Community of Support

 

“At Spelman, there was a community of people who supported me from cafeteria workers all the way up to administrators like former president Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole – every time one would walk up to her, she would say, ‘My Spelman sister’ as if she knew each one of us personally. Coming to Spelman during her tenure and having her as our North Star for four years was powerful,” Bowman recalled.

Andrea Lawrence, Ph.D., who led the computer science department, was also very instrumental in my life, as was Linda Brown, Ph.D. who unfortunately passed away from cancer. Dr. Brown oversaw the dual degree program at the time and was like a second mother to many of us. She helped me secure financial support, always connected me to opportunities, and gave me that lift and recognition when I needed it most. Her support reminded me that I could do whatever I wanted to do,” said Bowman.

“It helped to be connected. I was involved in student government and served as senior class officer. I also did other things on campus through my sorority – Delta Sigma Theta, Incorporated – Eta Kappa chapter. In addition to my role on campus, it was important to me to give back to the community so I did try to get engaged whenever I could to give back to our own institution while on campus as well.”