Meet Athena member Rhonda Mims, lawyer turned C-suite executive passionate about diversity
Although Rhonda Mims’ journey to the boardroom was far from linear, she knew from the beginning that she had a passion for service. Rhonda spent the first chapter of her career as a lawyer-sparking her interest in social justice-before entering the corporate world championing a diversity and corporate social responsibility perspective. Rhonda currently serves as an executive at Centene Corporation, the board chair of Thirty Percent Coalition, and a board member of Kymera International. And, we’re thrilled to announce that Rhonda has joined the board of Athena Alliance, helping champion women from all backgrounds into the top ranks of leadership.
Tell us about your executive journey up to this point.
My journey isn’t typical for an executive. I started out as a government attorney, spending time as a lawyer for the Department of Justice during the Clinton administration. I entered corporate America as a P&L leader selling retirement plans to institutions, served as the CEO of a foundation for a global financial services company, led corporate social responsibility for Paul Hastings, and finally joined WellCare as a C-suite executive.
I’ve always been strategic about finding the right roles for me, which landed me in effective leadership teams and opened doors for the next steps in my career. Although my professional experiences are wide-ranging, they all have an element of social justice to each of them, which is a critical part of my identity.
How did you decide to make the jump from a prosecutor to a C-suite executive?
At first, I was troubled by the fact that I had invested so much of my parents’ money to attend law school. At some point, I realized that I’d given law a good shot, I could apply my legal training to my next role, and there was more to life that I wanted to explore. Once I got over this fear, I took the leap into the corporate world and never looked back. You cannot let fear drive you.
How have you seen C-suite and board conversations about diversity change over the course of your career?
My first business mentor, the former Chief Diversity Officer of Aetna, Campbell Soup, and Microsoft, demonstrated that corporate diversity officers need to strike the right balance between diplomacy and tenacity. In addition to setting goals, it is essential to socialize the work you’re doing. Over the years, I have witnessed diversity fatigue and less sustainable diversity initiatives when not connected to the corporate culture or the bottom line. I am hopeful we will experience a new frontier of equity efforts going forward.
In later years, I recognized the lack of diversity in the boardroom, which inspired my work with the Thirty Percent Coalition. As board chair of the coalition, I’ve been leading this project to introduce governance chairs and CEOs of companies with potential diverse board candidates. Following George Floyd’s death and in light of social injustices happening in America, I feel as a black female executive, I need to ensure that a path is clear for other women of color candidates coming down the pipeline. I also try to always leave a great impression with the organizations I work with, so they can see the power in having more diversity on their teams.
Looking back, my diversity work has certainly evolved: It started out with just fostering inclusive workplaces.It transformed into advancing diversity in C-suites and boards and now manifests as diversity work at all levels, including folks with disabilities and different sexual orientations.
How did you get involved with Athena?
The executive director of Thirty Percent Coalition introduced me to Athena after I expressed interest in serving on a board. She spoke highly of Athena’s training and network-which I found to be so true. When I met Coco, we just naturally hit it off and she invited me to a virtual salon. I remember the topic being fascinating and the women bringing such interesting perspectives-so much so that it transformed my view of board service. So, I joined Athena. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of working with my personal concierge and joining the Athena Alliance Inc. board.
What would you define as your key areas of expertise in the boardroom?
As a board member, I have my personal experiences to effectively guide strategy. I’ve had the opportunity to live through an IPO (as well as several mergers and acquisitions), be the lawyer wearing the regulatory hat, and be a company spokesperson. I can represent a company’s perspective so the consumer understands the company’s value and perspective. In addition, I am a left brain and right brain thinker: I can be methodical, but at the same time creative. I’m passionate about the regulatory legal role as well as the creative marketing piece. I understand that both sides bring value and that both muscles need to be flexed.
What tips do you have for other women hoping to identify and hone their strengths?
If a woman wants to identify and hone her strengths, she first needs to find her voice. My voice comes from my professional experience and my passion for creating social impact programs for underserved populations. This has translated into everything that I do and what I hope to bring to the Athena Alliance Board.
Athena Alliance brings the most powerful women leaders into a single global community. Athena Alliance activates the connections, knowledge, and opportunities executive leaders need to break through the barriers that line the “last mile” of their career. Join Athena to connect with women leaders like Rhonda and advance your own executive interests-into the C-suite, boardroom, and beyond. Current members can request an introduction to Rhonda by logging into Athena.
Originally published at https://athenaalliance.com on November 23, 2020.